How can HR help employees cope during this stressful crisis?
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to have an impact on the workforce and businesses globally, leaders remind the importance of looking after both physical and mental wellbeing.
Maintaining psychological health in an extended and uncertain crisis can be difficult, especially with the current calls for work-from-home and ‘stay home’ measures – thereby increasing the risk of social isolation.
“We see a daily tally of countries and a growing number of people affected as the Coronavirus outbreak continues to spread,” said Dr Laurent Taymans, regional medical director at International SOS.
“This evolving and escalating situation can considerably increase stress. There is an element of the unknown, and situations can change quickly. In these circumstances it is important to provide access to timely, accurate, verified information.”
To mitigate this, International SOS and Affinity Health at Work shared 10 evidence-based suggestions to support mental wellbeing during the crisis.
- Research and learn
Do as much research as you can about the risks and resources available, such as medical support. Consider which might be your touchpoints for risk and what you could do to prepare for this.
- Accept your worries
Having an emotional reaction, be that anxiety, fear, anger or frustration, is absolutely normal and is a sign that our body’s natural protective mechanisms have been triggered.
Research has shown that having a moderate level of anxiety means that you are more likely to take precautions such as engage in health seeking behaviours than those who are not concerned.
Further, accepting that these feelings are normal, instead of suppressing them, has been shown to make them less prominent in our minds.
- Look after yourself
Ironically, the time when we most need to look after ourselves, is often the time when we are least likely to. By looking after yourself and engaging in positive behaviours such as getting good sleep, eating a balanced diet and exercising, you will be protecting yourself both physically and psychologically from the virus.
- Consider the information you receive
How credible is the source? Is the information rational? Is it factually accurate? Could it be heightening your feelings of concern at the moment? Try and challenge the information you receive by questioning how rational and free from bias it is. Seek out trusted outlets and sources.
- Focus on what you can control
Studies from previous virus outbreaks, such as SARS, showed that people tend to feel that these threats are less controllable than threats from other stressors.
When we feel that a threat is uncontrollable and there’s nothing we can do about it, we are also less likely to engage in problem solving or respond flexibly to new situations, and be able to protect ourselves when we need to.
- Think about prevention, not avoidance
Research has shown that for this type of threat, three responses are most common: wishful thinking, support seeking, empathetic responding. The first group, those who believe ‘this will all blow over’ may be the ones less likely to adopt preventative measures.
The most effective coping response is the empathetic one. Those people who, when under threat, are able to consider how others are thinking and feeling around the threat, are more likely to engage in productive health behaviours and preventative measures.
- Think about your impact on others
How might your family and friends feel about you and your potential exposure to risk by your travelling? What could you be doing differently that would help others? Thinking about others may help you focus on looking after yourself and engaging in preventative measures more consciously.
- Focus on the present moment
In a threat such as this, we find ourselves worrying about the ‘What if?’ and what could happen in the future. This can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and paralysed with concerns that we have no control over.
It is important therefore to try and take a step back and focus on what is happening right here and right now. You can try managing this practically by dividing up your day into smaller tasks, and just focusing on each task in turn. Or you may attempt mindfulness techniques or meditation.
- Be prepared to say no
Employers have a duty of care to protect employees’ physical and your mental health. They must not put staff in a situation where either are compromised. Be prepared to put yourself, and your health, before the demands of your role. It is also important to offer solutions to reach a compromise.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are finding that you are feeling overwhelmed by your fears and are struggling to control them; it is likely that this is affecting both your home and work life; and that you would benefit from some professional support.
“There are very likely to be future occurrences of significant novel viral infectious outbreaks’ that become a threat to people, and as an impact, business continuity and sustainability,” said Dr Laurent Taymans.
“We don’t know what these look like yet, in form, timeframe or impact, but preparedness is essential.
“With the right planning and measures, including mental health considerations, organisations will be in the best position to respond and protect their people and business.”