As businesses continue to grapple with repercussions of the Covid–19 pandemic and settle into new norms, another contagion is spreading from person to person and threatening to infect entire organizations: anxiety.
Rooted in our evolutionary survival response to fear and stress, anxiety is a social contagion fueled by uncertainty that can spread easily through daily interactions. Health concerns (especially for those returning to an office), financial worries, interruptions to regular routines, and panic about an increasingly unpredictable future not only take a toll on individual mental health and wellbeing, they can also cause entire teams to become highly stressed, distracted and unable to achieve high performance.
Rather than allowing anxiety to spread unchecked throughout your organization, a proactive shift in leadership communication can help take some of the mental burden off of your team to support their continued success. Here’s how to address four key concerns in the post–Covid–19 workplace to help employees feel more secure, positive and focused on results.
The ultimate antidote to uncertainty is consistency, so provide your team with consistent communication they can trust in a timely and ongoing manner. The worst thing you can do in our current situation is to remain silent, as silence creates uncertainty, which in turn fuels anxiety.
To give employees a little extra peace of mind in an uncertain time, send regular email or video updates, schedule virtual one-on-one and team check-ins and set consistent communication standards and expectations across your organization. If your company is experiencing a particularly stressful or difficult period, consider temporarily increasing communications to get your team over the hurdle, whether through weekly internal emails, newsletters or even short blog posts that keep workers informed.
Many Americans are concerned with their financial stability and job security in the struggling economy. While you may not be able to predict the future or make any guarantees as a business leader, you can combat feelings of insecurity by striving to communicate with extreme transparency.
When employees feel like they don’t know what’s going on with the future of their job or the company as a whole, they may begin to feel fearful, alienated and resentful. Even if you don’t have complete information about an evolving situation yet, sharing what you do know versus dancing in circles around a topic (or, even worse, ignoring it completely) can go a long way toward fostering trust and security within your team. How is the company really doing in the current economy? Are there contracts coming down the pipeline? Do you expect to slash budgets, or is it business as usual? Get specific — employees will appreciate the transparency from leadership.
With many employees working remotely for the first time thanks to the pandemic (a trend that may continue indefinitely), the disruption of daily routines and isolation from co-workers, friends and family can lead to loneliness and increased levels of stress and anxiety. Activities like trivia competitions and virtual happy hours can only go so far to counteract these feelings, so empathetic leadership communication is more important than ever to ensure workers feel included, provide a boost to morale and bring dispersed teams together.
Start by adopting a “humanity first, business second” approach in your everyday interactions. Intentionally frame conversations around what matters most to each employee, not your own agenda. Begin calls and video chats with genuine care and concern — How’s your family? Are you feeling well? How was your weekend? — before launching into the business at hand.
In addition, allow time for personal interactions between team members at the beginning of every virtual meeting to support the camaraderie they would normally experience in the workplace. Encourage personal touches and moments of humanity whenever possible. Give people the space to share the challenges they might be facing. This simple but intentional shift in communication will drive connection and remind remote employees they are valued members of a team.
4. Health & Safety
Worker health and safety is a pressing concern for employers during the global health crisis, but it’s also a top concern in the minds of employees returning to the workplace. Providing your team with the right information in the right way will help assuage many fears that can lead to reentry anxiety. Though it’s vital to share details about enhanced company safety protocols, don’t stop there. Show employees you truly care by going beyond the context of the workplace to provide resources they can use to protect themselves and their families.
There are several valuable Covid–19 resources that will only cost the time it takes to compile and disseminate to your workforce, including protection guidelines from the CDC, the World Health Organization and OSHA. Consider establishing a webpage on the company website that you can update on an ongoing basis, or sending out weekly safety emails with the most up-to-date public health measures and guidelines on the local, state and national level. With so many competing sources of information, synthesizing recommendations into an easily digestible format will ensure everyone in the organization is on the same page.
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