Sometimes, I write corporate copy and press releases. It’s not as exciting as video game narrative, but good copy is good copy. This was written for an employee assistance programme, as people began to return to the office after the summer of 2020.
Supporting anxious workers
We’re seeing more and more people getting back to the office, as summer draws to a close. This is good—we’re working on getting back to normal. But the threat of COVID-19 isn’t gone yet. In Europe, cases are spiking, in South-East Asia and India, things are looking very serious. And in some pockets of the UK the R-number—the rate of infection—is showing higher than it was in March.
Obviously, this is unnerving news. And a lot of people who might have been open to returning to the workplace could be understandably spooked. Those who are vulnerable, or who live with someone vulnerable, will be leery of increasing their personal exposure to the virus.
It’s the job of an employer to provide reassurance. The duty of care that means providing a safe workplace extends to the mental wellbeing of your people, after all.
So, how can you provide that reassurance for people who are anxious about returning?
It’s vitally important that you are seen to talk openly about the situation. Simply saying ‘you need to return’ then closing all channels will only serve to make anxiety worse—a major part of COVID anxiety is uncertainty, after all.
Talk about the ways in which you’ve made your workplace COVID-secure. Offer advice on transport. Make daily updates, listing the things you’re doing and planning to keep everyone safe. Above all, use reassuring language—try not to mention the negatives, and concentrate on the positives of your plans and ideas.
Listen, and act
Anxious people will have a lot to say. It might not be pleasant to hear. Fear makes people act irrationally, and however safe you make things, they’ll never be 100%.
Calmly accept feedback, criticism and questions about your actions. Explain in simple and rational terms what you’re doing to protect people. And act upon ideas you might think are positive.
Allow people to stay at home, if their presence is not completely necessary. Offer flexible, staggered start times to avoid rush hour. Let people use their annual leave. It’s about being honest and kind in the face of adversity, and employees will respect you for that.
It’s the job of a business leader to lead. And now, that is more vital than ever. You can’t expect people to put themselves at risk—however small that risk might be—if you yourself are avoiding it.
When you talk about the workplace, make it clear that you’re there. Be seen and visible, and talk to the people who return (maintaining a safe distance, of course!)
In doing so, you’ll build confidence both in yourself as a leader and a company who really walks it like they talk it.