COVID-19: Are leaders doing enough to help affected employees?

The 'prolonged' crisis has led to higher stress levels for some

COVID-19: Are leaders doing enough to help affected employees?

The COVID-19 pandemic is no longer just a public health emergency – it’s also creating a dire economic recession. What can leaders do to help employees manage the crisis?

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that April 9 marked the 100th day since they were notified of the first cases of an ‘unknown pneumonia-like virus’ in China.

“It’s incredible to reflect on how dramatically the world has changed, in such a short period of time,” he said in the media briefing.

Identified now as COVID-19, the virus has spread globally and evolved into an unprecedented international crisis.

As a result, almost two in three employees have reported feeling more anxious in the current climate, with another 64% citing higher levels of stress. The study by Qualtrics also found that 26% of employees cited a stark decline in their mental health.

While the raised anxieties can be attributed to things like worries around the health and safety of their loved ones or their own, Qualtrics found that 68% of employees said they’re at least somewhat worried about losing their jobs.

This is why Steve Bennetts, Head of Employee Experience at Qualtrics APJ, shared with HRD that if leaders do anything now, it’s to listen.

“Right now, the ability to listen to your employees, gather feedback on their sentiment, and communicate in a transparent way will significantly help in addressing anxieties,” said Bennetts.

“In times of change and uncertainty – like what we’re experiencing now – Qualtrics research shows employees want to be listened to. That’s why the first stage in addressing anxiety among your workforce is soliciting feedback from them on their individual situation.”

He suggested that leaders ask simple and direct questions like:

  • Are you okay?
  • Do you have everything you need to work remotely?

However, Bennetts understands that not everyone is comfortable discussing their personal well-being with their manager or co-workers. To overcome this challenge, employers can turn to feedback systems to capture the overall sentiment and identify affected employees.

“[Such programs] provide a secure and private environment for everyone to feedback,” he said. “By sending a short three- to five-question survey asking employees how they are feeling, leaders can capture the information they need to identify at-risk employees and begin taking action.

“With the rate of change we are all experiencing right now, businesses should be collecting feedback and communicating with their teams on the latest updates at least weekly.”

READ MORE: How has COVID-19 affected employee well-being?

Advice for leaders managing the ‘prolonged’ crisis

Besides ramping up employee communications and closing feedback loops, Bennetts shared other vital tips for leaders managing the crisis.

  • Empower employees during times of crisis
    Giving employees autonomy over their situation and the freedom to make impactful decisions provides a greater sense of control.

For example, if an employee has to home school their children, they need to be given the freedom to choose their own working hours.

Simultaneously, leaders need to show how employees’ feedback is impacting the overall direction of the company.

  • Continue to foster a sense of purpose
    This can help mitigate prevailing mental health challenges. An example of this is explicitly showing how the work the business is doing is positively contributing to society.
  • Encourage a sense of connection
    Enabling connections among teammates is critical during a crisis. Leaders can do this by establishing social support networks and conducting regular communications on the latest updates and support services available.

Providing a forum can also help individuals feel connected to others, knowing they share the same sentiment or concerns.

“There are a number of actions and characteristics managers can implement to support the mental health of their teams during a prolonged crisis period,” Bennetts said.

“Taking proactive steps to help individuals manage their mental health will help businesses bounce back quicker from the current challenges, as well as display better productivity.”

To get more tips on how to help employees manage the crisis, click here: The Working from Home Experience.

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