We are all riding a roller-coaster … The ups and downs, twists, and turns, that is Covid-19. Everything is moving fast, we do not know what is coming next and just like any good coaster, the ride creates a real feeling of fear.
The negative impact that Covid-19 has had on employees and families has been well document. In a recent survey released by Morneau Shepell, mental health has dropped 12 points to 63, a score typically only seen when people are experiencing major life disruptions and mental health risks. https://bit.ly/2XI8bGN
The latest twist on the Covid-19 ride is the return to work for employees. After six weeks of isolation, stress and anxiety, people can add being scared to the emotions that we have been forced to deal with.
The fear of greater exposure to Covid-19 is real and justified. If you consider that for the better part of two months, people have been told to stay away from anyone not in your household. Don’t celebrate birthdays or Mother’s Day, don’t attend funerals, don’t visit your grandparents or friends, all because it is simply too dangerous. Now, we are telling people it is safe to return to work.
As we return people back to their jobs, employers need to be empathetic of the many emotions, including fear, that employees are struggling with. One way an employer can assist is to provide employees with useful resources that are made publicly available to employers and employees in need. Such as this information, https://cmha.ca/news/im-feeling-stressed-due-to-the-pandemic, from the Canadian Mental Health Organization.
In addition, there are numerous steps and considerations employers can take to re-assure their employees as they return to the workplace. I have outlined a few important steps employers may wish to consider as we go through this surreal transition.
Be Understanding of People’s Decisions Not to Return to Work
Ironic that I start off with a tip about people not returning to work, given the subject of the article. However, these employees still deserve your understanding, even if you do not agree with their decision. Some employees who do not meet the conditions to be off under the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave will not wish to come back to work. Provided your workplace is safe and meets the Public Health requirements, you would be in the right if you treated the refused call-back as an involuntary resignation.
However, you also have the right to provide that employee with the option of a leave of absence, so they may return to their job when we find a place in time a little closer to normal. Remember, some employees may live at home with vulnerable people, elderly parents or grandparents, infants or be vulnerable themselves. These circumstances may not mean they are eligible for the CERB, however, it may mean they qualify for your understanding.
Face Employees Fears Head On
Employees need to be reassured that they are safe coming back to work. It is important for employers to acknowledge with their employees that is not the workplace from where they left. Talk to your employees about their concerns, educate your employees on both the risks and the precautions that have been implemented to combat those risks. Make sure they know that you are aware of everything they fear, and you have their backs.
Be Realistic and Set Expectations Accordingly
It should be expected that employees will come back to their workplace a little timid. Know that work will likely be impacted … work will slow down, things that can be done in 10 minutes, may take 15, necessary travel may be cancelled. Reassure staff that expectations will shift accordingly and that it is okay. We will get through this! https://cmha.ca/news/6-tips-to-respond-to-employee-anxiety-about-covid-19
Provide Accommodations and Requests, even if Not Required
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has ruled that the rules around accommodation do in fact apply to the Covid-19 virus. So, employers still will be required to allow some workers to work from home, for example, an employee with a weakened immune system.
There will also be employees that are presently working from home who, if given the choice, would prefer to continue to do so. Assuming an employee does not ‘need’ to be in the office and their productivity is good, it would seem reasonable that employers allow for this arrangement to continue.
Consider the benefits … you would get more productivity from an employee who felt safe working from home. There would be fewer people in the workplace which helps with floor layouts, social distancing, and hygiene control. You would have a grateful, and likely more loyal employee who appreciated your care for their situation. It makes sense.
You can show you care for employees in the workplace as well. Allow for staggered start times and flex-time so employees can catch a bus at a less busy time, keep the number of people in the workplace at a minimum, and promote a healthy work-life balance which is essential in these times.
If an employee asks for extra PPE, provide it. If an employee asks to sit three desks apart, rather than two, let them move. Anything you can do to make your employee feel safer, and a little more normal, is great. If you operationally can grant a request, make it happen.
These are strange times and we all need to accept that. If we pretend that employees, and employers alike, do not struggle with stress, anxiety and even fear, then we will never be able to overcome the emotions that hold us down. It is a fast and scary roller-coaster and it will eventually come to a stop. We will get through this!
— Darcy Michaud, Managing Director of Consulting, HR Covered. (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)