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Workplace Mental Health

6 Tips for Responding to Employee Anxiety About the COVID-19 Pandemic

Man rubbing his eyes while working on a computer
Man rubbing his eyes while working on a computer
Jordan Friesen

Jordan Friesen

National Director, Workplace Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association

Fear and anxiety are on the rise in the population. Your employees may be experiencing a high degree of uncertainty, worry, and stress about the health and safety of their loved ones, and how the pandemic is disrupting their work and home lives, today and into the future.  

While employers are preparing responses to safeguard their business operations and protect the physical health of their employees during this crisis, it’s also important to consider everyone’s psychological health and safety.

In order to support the psychological health and safety of your employees, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) recommends employers consider the following six tips:  

1. Have a plan.

Let employees know that you’re thinking and looking ahead, that you will stay well-informed, and that you can answer the questions they already have: What if I get sick? How do I take time off work? What if my family member contracts the virus? You may want to compile frequently asked questions and direct employees to them often.

2. Communicate, share, and be open.

Worry and fear grow in the absence of up-to-date information. Let your employees know that they can expect regular updates from you. Communicate even if the situation remains unchanged.

3. Empathize.

Share that you know it’s stressful. Recognize that it’s okay to be anxious. Remind your employees of resources (EAP) that are available for those who are experiencing stress.

4. Reassure — as best you can.

You can refer to reports indicating that most people who become infected with the virus will recover.

5. Understand.

Recognize when stress has become unmanageable for individual employees. Stress can lead to anxiety and even panic. Some employees may need mental health days and medical intervention in order to cope. Encourage employees to practice self-care activities on the job and reassure them that it’s okay to take steps to manage stress, such as relaxation exercises, listening to relaxing music, or taking regular breaks. 

6. Recognize this is not quite “business as usual.”

Know that work will likely be impacted — work will slow down or change, things will have to be rethought or planned and then planned again. Reassure staff that expectations will shift accordingly, and that’s ok.

Remember: whether you’re an essential worker, your work or business has been interrupted, or you’re working remotely, there’s a huge amount of personal and business change to adapt to in a short period of time. You’re not “working from home during a pandemic.” You’re at home during a pandemic, trying to work!

Be kind to yourself and your coworkers during this difficult time.

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