Watch for These Signs of COVID Stress in Your Employees

We’ve talked previously about “How to Help Your Employees Manage Workplace Stress.” But COVID-19 has ratcheted up stress levels like never before. Business owners and employees alike are grappling with COVID stress in many different forms. And everyone handles stress differently.

According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management, 22-35% of employees report often experiencing symptoms of depression such as feeling tired or having little energy, feeling like a failure, feeling hopeless, and having trouble concentrating.

Mental health provider Ginger released survey data showing that nearly 7 in 10 employees indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career. 

Watch for these Indicators

As an employer, you need to be aware of the warning signs your employees may be exhibiting related to COVID stress —not to mention you need to equip yourself to remain calm and focused to navigate through this crisis. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs of extreme stress:

  • Low productivity
  • Low morale
  • Expressions of fear and worry about their health and/or the health of a loved one
  • Extreme changes in weight
  • Difficulty concentrating or finishing work on time
  • Worsening of chronic or mental health problems of which you’re already aware
  • Low energy or appearing tired all of the time
  • Changes in attitude or temperament
  • Increased absences or tardiness

The above list is not meant to refer to clinical depression or anxiety. However, if an employee comes to you and states they have been diagnosed with or are being treated for depression or anxiety, and they are asking for some sort of workplace accommodation, you must follow the normal rules of engagement in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How Can You Encourage Employees to De-Stress?

As a business owner, what is your role in all this? You’re not expected to be a therapist or a counselor. However, there are things you can encourage your employees to do. And you can build encouraging those things into your corporate culture. Here are four pillars to focus on:

QUIET – Snooze the news updates and social media feeds and take a mental break. Quieting the constant clamor can be restorative. This is good advice for everyone – employers and employees alike.

BODY – Take care of your physical health. Encourage healthy eating habits with well-balanced meals, getting lots of sleep, and limiting alcohol consumption.

MIND – Tend to your mental health. This means prioritizing time to unwind. This could include practicing breathing exercises, participating in activities you enjoy, or finding a new hobby.

CONNECT – Stay connected with others. Humans have a fundamental need for contact with other humans. Especially for the extroverts among us, this time of distancing and isolation can be especially challenging.

Make sure you’re creating opportunities for employees to talk about things – such as a virtual message board or weekly virtual event. Workplace virtual socializing is becoming very popular with companies sponsoring things like lunchtime book clubs, game nights, and even virtual happy hours. Social distancing “tailgate” style gatherings and even walking “one on one meetings” are also gaining popularity. If possible, consider starting company events back up in a limited and safe capacity, perhaps to support local philanthropy. This shifts the focus to doing good for others and provides a connection to the community.

Leverage Your Employee Wellness Resources

Many of you likely already have an Employee Assistance Program – a program that offers mental health, financial planning, legal guidance, etc. Often these benefits extend beyond the employee to their families as well. Have you fully explored these offerings?

You might be surprised to learn how many discounts are available through your medical providers. For example, they often include discounts on fitness center memberships, exercise equipment, exercise trackers, and smoking cessation programs to name just a few. Reach out to your human resources staff or insurance brokers to obtain a list of what’s available. Virtual health and counseling visits are also commonly covered by health insurance. Be sure to let your employees know the full extent of the wellness resources available to them. Knowing they have additional resources available will provide some measure of peace of mind.

Be Vigilant and Communicate Your Support

Even without the surveys and studies showing increases in stress levels and drops in productivity, we are all well aware of the impact of COVID-19. Employers and employees alike are dealing with individual emotional struggles. Be vigilant and watchful for the warning signs. Then be proactive about communicating the ways in which you can provide support. To learn more, the CDC provides a great list of additional resources:

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