Managing COVID-19 stress and anxiety in the workplace
Covid-19 has changed the way people work and the transition into new ways of working is not without risks or problems for some employees.
With lockdown restrictions easing and most venues opening again, many employees are being asked to come back into their workplaces. Some may experience anxiety, stress or even fear. This has potentially serious implications for employers.
If employees feel overwhelmed it can lead to lost productivity, burnout, absence, as well as an immediate and possibly long-term effect on individual’s performance.
According to Statista over 43% of employees in the UK stated that COVID-19 is having a direct impact on their wellbeing, causing them loneliness, anxiety and stress.
How employees cope with these emotions will affect their performance, the wellbeing of others, their workplace and their wider community.
It is critically important for both employees and employers to recognise the symptoms of stress and anxiety, to learn how to build resilience and to know where to go for help.
The signs of stress and anxiety
According to Centers for Disease and Control & Prevention (2021), the symptoms of stress and anxiety are:
- Feeling irritation, anger, or denial
- Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
- Lacking motivation
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed or burned out
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating
In addition, they found the work-related factors that employees may experience in the context of COVID-19 to be:
- Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Managing a different workload
- Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform their job
- Feeling they are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
- Uncertainty about the future of their workplace and/or employment
- Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule
Reducing the risks
When employees start to return, what steps can employers take to minimise the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace?
We asked Dr. Amun Kalia MRCGP MbChB BSc (Hons) ECPC DOccMed, our Head of Occupational Health, to share some insights and advice. His top ten tips for employers are:
- Communication is the key to reducing psychological risks in the workplace and enabling employees to talk openly is an essential first step.
- Conducting a stress risk assessment (free tools are available from the HSE) will help to identify any areas that may cause stress or anxiety. Steps to mitigate any risks can then be identified and discussed.
- Promoting mental health support services, such as Mental Health First Aid support or Employee Assistance Programmes or online support resources will help.
- Considering setting up peer support groups or teams will help employees to voice or address concerns and share tips on how to adapt or build resilience.
- Helping employees to develop a routine similar to pre-pandemic working patterns, if at all possible, can help to increase their sense of control.
- If periods of time working from home may continue, helping to structure and encourage regular start and finish times will help to reduce health risks.
- Stress and anxiety can be reduced by understating any risks and sharing accurate and up-to-date information, including facts about COVID-19. Providing as much information as possible about what’s happening in your business can help to stop some people worrying about what is going to happen.
- As far as is practical and possible, it is worth involving employees in as many decisions as possible relating to re-opening, to help reduce any stress and anxiety.
- Dr. Kalia’s key tip is to invite employees to come and visit the workplace before they start back formally. This one step can be a huge help in reducing anxiety.
- It is worth considering gradually re-introducing more traditional working patterns, if it all possible.
Going back to work in a group or public setting may be stressful and many employees will experience some sort of anxiety when they think about working with other people again.
However, with open and transparent communication, employees and employers can work together to minimise the impact of COVID anxiety and improve performance in the workplace.
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