Normality is beginning to return in the UK as lockdown restrictions ease, allowing people to gather indoors, socialise inside restaurants, cinemas and museums and even go on holiday. It also means a transition from remote to office working for many as employees are encouraged to return to the workplace.
Whilst many of us are excited about this transition, thousands feel anxious about the prospect. The uncertainty that the pandemic brings, paired with fear of contracting the disease, can be overwhelming. Employers must be mindful of this and try to minimise anxiety as their employees return to work and adjust to new routines.
COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of us with new challenges. Some of us have become accustomed to changing our behaviours as rules are altered and restrictions are implemented/eased, but for others it is a time of increased fear and anxiety.
Researchers Nikčević and Spada have developed the concept of COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome. This phenomenon, emerging as a result of the ongoing pandemic, is suffered by individuals who have developed maladaptive coping behaviours in order to deal with the ongoing situation.
Characteristics of the syndrome include avoidance of social situations, compulsive symptom checking, worrying and threat monitoring. These behaviours develop as a result of the fear of contracting the virus paired with increased uncertainty and may persist long after ‘normality’ has resumed.
Those with higher levels of COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome find it harder to disengage from threats of contracting the virus, making the return to normal daily activities, such as travelling to and from work, more difficult.
Managing COVID-19 Anxiety in the Workplace
As more and more people return to the workplace, employers have a responsibility to make it as safe as possible for their employees. Having the right health and safety and support systems in place can make anxious employees feel more comfortable with the return to work.
Below are just some of the ways you can help your employees to feel more safe whilst at work:
Make sure your employees have support available to them and educate your management/HR team about COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome so that they know how best to help. Check in on employees both on site and those working from home regularly to ensure they feel safe and supported. Ask them about their concerns and encourage open communication.
Adherence to safety protocols and availability of PPE
Ensure safety measures are put in place to protect staff and make them feel safe when at work. Make hand sanitisers and face masks readily available for staff and visitors so they can easily adopt healthy behaviours.
Having a testing programme in place where employees are tested on a regular basis is the only way to prevent those who are asymptomatic bringing the virus into the workplace. Ensure your staff are tested at least twice a week to minimise transmission and keep outbreaks under control.
Consider flexible work patterns
Allowing your employees some flexibility and autonomy over their working patterns will ease the pressure of those feeling particularly anxious and allow them to return to work at their own pace. Some may find a more gradual return to pre-COVID routines more manageable.
Messaging regarding COVID-19 is commonly spread across news channels and social media and can trigger anxiety amongst readers. Be mindful of this when communicating information regarding COVID-19 to your employees. Only distribute necessary information from trusted sources when required.
The situation is constantly changing which means businesses need to frequently evaluate their processes and adapt to evolving employee needs.
More information about COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome: