Keep Employees Engaged, Informed During COVID-19 Threat, Expert Advises

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Some of the very same strategies that help keep injured workers engaged can be effective in helping all employees during the COVID-19 threat. Like injured workers, employees may be

  • Scared — about the virus as well as their work situations
  • Confused — as they don’t know what to expect from their employers
  • Feeling isolated — especially if they are being asked to work remotely

“The key thing is communication, communication, communication,” said Jeff Gorter, VP of Crisis Response Clinical Service for R3 Continuum. “Share frequent updates about how COVID-19 and enactment of their continuity plans affect each person. Touch base, ‘how are you doing because I know you don’t typically work remotely.’ Acknowledge the event, communicate that you get it and transition to a future focus.”

That doesn’t mean employers have all the answers, especially about the virus itself. But just maintaining contact goes a long way.

“It may seem simplistic. But in the absence of that it’s human nature to plug in our worst fears,” Gorter said. “So even if it’s tempting to say, ‘I won’t say anything until I know more,’ in that span of time their fears will multiple and they will plug in their worst expectations.”

During a webinar on mitigating organizational impact of an epidemic crisis, Gorter suggested employers share what they know, along with what they don’t know. Being open and transparent about the facts establishes the employer as a verifiable source of real information. “It’s incredibly comforting to the employees and helps them to adapt and begin to make their shifts in order to operate in this new environment of working remotely.”

It’s important to understand what employees — along with their employers — may be going through both emotionally and physically during the COVID-19 threat. Fear and anxiety about the virus spreading and affecting us or those around us can be debilitating if we continue to constantly dwell on it.

“It Wouldn’t be surprising for folks to be more irritable – we’re on edge. Or have insomnia – difficulty sleeping as we’re waking up and not necessarily thinking about the virus but finding our sleep disrupted. Our appetite may be affected. We may have Muscle tension. We may find our breathing is accelerated, heart is racing – all those kinds of reactions employers should be aware of in their work teams and themselves,” Gorter said. “What’s absolutely essential is to recognize that all those emotions are understandable, normal, and expected.”

Employers can take several steps to help employees adjust to the ‘new normal.’ One way is to encourage them to keep routines as normal as possible.

“If you normally arrive at work at 8:30, have coffee at 8:45, check in with coworkers and take the first phone call at 9, even if you’re working from home, do those same routines. There is comfort in doing the same things,” Gorter said. “It’s not a cure all but it starts to build around us that sense of predictability and control.”

Staying connected with employees and allowing for two-way communication is also important. Setting up a communication board for workers at home, but holding virtual meetings or conference calls helps employees feel less isolated.

“There needs to be a feedback loop so employees can ask questions,” said Hart Brown, SVP of R3 Continuum, “almost on a daily basis.”

Setting up telephonic support groups through the company’s employee assistance program is also an option to help employees. A trained mental health facilitator can help workers express their fears and share strategies to help them cope.

“What we can control, even in face of helplessness, is we have ability to make some choices as to how we will respond to [the virus],” Gorter said. “Basically, what we’re talking about is resilience.”

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