Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

Managing Employee Fear

In times of uncertainty—like now, during a global pandemic—it’s natural to be fearful and anxious about what’s happening around us. There are plenty of concrete, specific things that may be making employees fearful or anxious right now, such as:

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  • Fear of exposure to the coronavirus
  • Fear of job loss or pay loss due to the uncertainty in the economy (for oneself or one’s spouse)
  • Fear of anger from customers or clients or the general public
  • Anxiety over how to manage finances during uncertainty, especially if they have already suffered losses
  • Fear of loss of health insurance
  • Fear of exposing others to the virus if it is contracted and transmitted before symptoms show
  • Fear they may be unable to meet work demands due to new home demands like child care or caring for an ill relative
  • Stress over being unable to socialize, being unable to easily get the same supplies at the store, fear of shortages of things they need, etc.
  • Fear of someone they care about falling ill

Beyond all those things, uncertainty and unknowns naturally cause fear and anxiety, even without a specific concern in mind. These reactions are completely normal and expected.

How Employers Can Help Employees Manage the Fear and Anxiety

There are a lot of actions employers can take to assist employees with managing that fear and anxiousness:

  • Communicate frequently to the public and employees about what the organization is doing to protect both employees and customers.
  • Implement changes that demonstrate a commitment to safety. Examples include:
    • Requiring masks for interpersonal interactions
    • Taking temperatures of those entering a shared workspace
    • Providing extra time off for anyone who feels ill so no one is tempted to risk coming in sick
    • Implementing extra cleaning measures throughout the workspace at increased frequencies
    • Allowing remote work whenever feasible
  • Offer benefits that allow employees to address concerns. Examples include:
    • Employee assistance programs so employees can get help if they need it
    • Health insurance
    • Bereavement leave
    • Personal leave, if the need arises, beyond what is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • Paid leave to care for an ill family member
    • Employee loans, payroll advances, or immediate payroll access
    • Well-being initiatives
    • Mindfulness training or classes
  • Communicate often with employees about the employer’s plans and situation. Even bad news is usually better than rampant speculation and lack of concrete information. If things are uncertain, it’s still better to communicate the current line of thinking than to say nothing. Transparency and frequent communication can make a big difference.
  • Train management staff to understand the ramifications of fear and anxiousness in the workplace. This may mean handling employee issues with more compassion, among other things. Fear and anxiousness may manifest as irritability, physical distress, burnout, and more.
  • Encourage employee well-being initiatives.

It’s important to recognize there are a lot of ways employers can help right now. Ask employees what they need, and start from there. Listen to them, and take their needs into account as things change weekly and even daily.

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.