Supporting employees during the pandemic
Article revised on 25 May 2020
The pandemic we are facing today brings with it a lot of collateral damage, including greater psychological stress amongst the public. As a manager, you are not only advantageously positioned to support your destabilized employees, it is also your responsibility to do so. Here are some strategies for intervening effectively, with skill, tact, and empathy.
There’s a good chance that members of your team are presently experiencing hardships, particularly due to the social distancing measures currently in effect. This distress is definitely having an effect on the productivity your employees and remote workers provide to the company.
As shown in a Canadian study on the psychosocial effects related to COVID-19 (available in French only) led by an interdisciplinary team at the University of Sherbrooke, the psychological effects of the pandemic are already becoming apparent, with a quarter of Canadian respondents presenting significant signs of post-traumatic stress (25.5%) and anxiety (25.4%). This survey, conducted amongst 600 people (300 in Quebec and 300 outside of Quebec) between April 8 and 11, demonstrates how important it is for managers to keep abreast of the situation.
Warning signs to look out for
To react appropriately, you need to recognize the signs of psychological distress, despite the distance separating you from your employees. The truth is, workers rarely speak openly about their difficulties. Many are more likely to conceal them and somehow try to continue to perform their everyday tasks.
Pay attention to a number of signs, particularly regarding changes in behaviour. For instance, during a virtual meeting conducted via a videoconferencing tool, a bad-tempered, confused, or unusually tired employee should draw your attention. A failing memory, lack of collaboration, or major reduction in their productivity may also give you pause. Here are some steps to follow in such situations. Given the context, a structured approach is recommended, therefore here are a few steps to follow.
- Schedule an exploratory meeting
Exercising great delicacy, share the observations you’ve made in recent weeks with the worker. Demonstrate empathy by indicating you are concerned about them. Despite their confinement, ensure that this person is able to rely on their personal network to get support when needed.
- Offer possible solutions
If your organization has already planned measures for helping employees experiencing difficulties, you can mention them to the individual concerned. If an employee assistance program (EAP) is in place, don’t hesitate to recommend this type of help to the employee, who may then be referred to a contact with expertise in the issues they are dealing with.
- Reaffirm your availability
Depending on their level of trust, it’s possible that the person will refuse to confide in you at the outset. In such cases you can reaffirm that your door is always open—by videoconferencing, to maintain social distancing—if they need anything. Next, it’s recommended to clarify your expectations of the employee so that they can take the necessary steps towards offering the level of performance required of them. Remember that in a teleworking context, it’s better to adopt a management style based on results. Determine an objective to be reached, with a due date for each task, and give them the scheduling flexibility they need to recover. Finally, track the situation as it evolves… and don’t forget to take care of yourself too, so you can continue to function at your best!
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