Written by Steven Bernstein

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us in unprecedented ways – globally, nationally, individually and occupationally. Like any health scare, it has fueled fear, anxiety, uncertainty and other uncomfortable feelings.

This heightening of emotions is likely to be showing up in workplaces, both for those who still must report for duty as well as those who now must work remotely.

Some employees, and managers, will be overwhelmed by the need to balance work responsibilities with child and family care while kids are home from school. Some will have trouble keeping up with all the sudden changes and technologies now required in their work. Some will experience a reawakening of depression, substance abuse issues or panic attacks.

Among other COVID-related challenges, municipal government managers must help to quell workplace anxiety, support employees (and themselves), and provide needed resources.

The following are some tips and strategies:

First and foremost
• Recognize that even as a manager, you’ll have your own feelings, thoughts and concerns about the pandemic. That’s OK. These emotions can even be used to gain a more complete understanding of what employees may be experiencing.
• Know that whatever you and your employees are feeling about the pandemic are normal, expectable responses to an abnormal event. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
• Make yourself available to employees for information, support and guidance. Do your best to remain calm and confident, as you help set the tone as a manager.
• Be sure to follow recommended federal and state coronavirus response protocols. It’s important for you to stay healthy so you can continue to provide leadership.

Communicate, inform, think ahead
• Provide essential hygiene tools, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, tissues and touchless trash cans, to mitigate disease spread and so employees feel protected.
• Educate employees about the symptoms of COVID-19. Knowledge-sharing fosters transparency and trust.
• Remind employees to keep their laptops and other equipment sanitary and secure. Build awareness about where germs are most likely to be found in an office, such as desktops, office phones, keyboards, and especially door handles (a known spreader of viruses like coronavirus).
• Train for backup, as time and resources permit. Develop a plan to ensure that key team members train at least one backup person to take over their job in case of illness. This will ensure an effective business continuity plan.
• Show employees that you’re on their side, especially during times of adversity. Encourage them to see this challenge as an opportunity to grow, develop and help others.
• Remind employees to reach out to their Employee Assistance Program for help with the stresses of the COVID emergency or any work-life concern. Those feeling overwhelmed are not alone. Their Employee Assistance Program offers free, confidential support, and can be a partner in thinking through how to best manage your COVID-related workplace issues.

Model and promote self-care
• Focus on well-being. With so much beyond our control right now, it’s important to keep your sights on what you can control. Get more sleep, read a new book, take a warm bath, or a walk somewhere quiet. Whatever it is, now is the time to prioritize your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
• Maintain your routine. It’s important to keep some sense of normalcy, where possible. If you’re working remotely, check in with co-workers and try to stick to a typical daily routine. Set regular meetings. It’s important to not feel like you’re alone and disconnected from your usual network.
• Talk it out, and listen to your feelings. Any stress or anxiety you’re feeling is real – and a good reason to connect with friends, family or a professional counselor/therapist (depending on the severity of what you’re experiencing) for support. Talking about it is a sign of strength, not weakness.
• Stay connected. Whether you use video chats, emails or voice calls, check in with family, friends and colleagues regularly. Send each other gifts, have virtual movie nights, and keep your spirits up.
• Finally, the adage, “This too shall pass,” is a helpful refrain in times like this.

Steven Bernstein is an EAP Account Manager with AllOneHealth EAP. For assistance, MIIA members may call 800-451-1834 or visit allonehealth.com/MIIAEAP.