Reduce Fear, Anxiety Among Workers During COVID-19

17 Apr, 2020 Nancy Grover


Sarasota, FL ( – How employers deal with workers during the coronavirus pandemic speaks volumes about whether they care. Ultimately, it can mean the difference between keeping or losing employees.

“I’m clearly of the mindset that there are companies that are going to either instill a sense of loyalty in their workers for years to come based on how well they’re handling this pandemic, and there’s other employers that don’t know it yet but they have lost scores of employees; they’ve already decided in their minds that they’re leaving because of how poorly the pandemic was managed. So manage the emotional aspect here,” advised George L. Vergolias, Medical Director for R3 Continuum.

During a webinar on supporting the behavioral health of employees during COVID-19, Vergolias discussed the importance of communication, providing information, and setting expectations — for employees and their employers. Keeping the lines of communication open, especially two-way if possible, can help two of the biggest threats to employees and businesses right now: fear and anxiety.

“… what we know about fear and anxiety is they both love a vacuum,” Vergolias said. “They love to not have something there because fear and anxiety love to run in and fill that vacuum with all kinds of speculation, and speculation that is usually bordering not on clinical paranoia but general paranoia, hyperbole and histrionics.”

Providing clear and practical information can prevent such paranoia, he said. Employees should be informed about what is happening with the organization and changes in workflows being made to adapt to the current environment. Also, providing information about the pandemic can be helpful. Basically, it’s a matter of giving clear messages that show emotional support and backing it up with actions.

“None of us have been through this before and it’s really important to keep remembering that,” Vergolias said. “It’s new to everybody on the planet with this scope and this degree of impact.”

Fear and Anxiety

Workers gripped with fear and/or anxiety typically are less productive. Right now, a majority of employees and employers have a certain amount of both. But employers can help mitigate some of that.

“Be patient with people. No one is an expert with this. No one is an expert at staying at home right now [even those who work at home]” Vergolias said. That doesn’t mean giving workers a blank check and they don’t have to do any work, but understand this is new for all of us.”

One challenge for everyone right now is remembering what our lives were like before the ‘shelter-in-place’ and other restrictions went into effect and project what our lives will be like post-COVID-19.

“It’s Important to keep those stories, those narratives alive,” Vergolias said. “Start [virtual meetings] by telling a funny joke from last year’s holiday party that links people to those experiences. Talk about what you’ll do at the summer barbecue, or next year’s holiday party. Use that connection.”

Managing employees’ fears is a matter of helping them understand that fear feeds off emptiness. When fear starts to creep in, Vergolias advises doing something, anything. “Take action. Get up, go for walk. Clean the garage, clean the closet,” he suggested. “The mere fact that you’re moving and not sitting in that fear helps combat the fear right out of the gate.”

Staying informed is also advisable, although it should be balanced. Watching or reading coverage of the virus can be overwhelming and leave people feeling they are stuck in the news cycle. Instead, he recommends employees and employers set specific times during the day to stay abreast of the news, then leave it for a while.

Expectations — for Employees and Employers

Working from home is an adjustment for everyone new to it. Even those who have been doing it for years may experience unease.

“Be mindful that productivity will likely go down – not just because of adjustment to ‘I’m now working from home,’ but for those of us who’ve worked from home it might,” Vergolias said. “The reason is every decision is infinitely more complex that I have to make in my day.”

Vergolias, who said he’s worked from home for 7 years, related an experience involving his 9-year-old son, who’s now at home. Vergolias and the parents of a neighborhood friend of his son’s had agreed to allow the two to play outside and made sure they understood and would stay 6 feet apart. But while they were outside playing, other neighborhood children showed up. “They’re good boys but I have no idea how they are adjusting to the pandemic,” he said. “So something as small as that required a whole host of decisions.”

It’s important for employers to realize that they and their workers are faced with myriad changes in their lives. His advice: be patient.

“It’s not a time for managers to nitpick minutiae that’s not important in the big scheme of things. People are very stressed. They are working hard, managing multiple priorities and they are fearful …of getting sick themselves or family members getting sick, or others. Keep that in mind,” Vergolias said. “Provide clear guidance on what the expectations are and also provide some support, some statement or guidance on the realization that working from home takes some adjustment and it may not be as easy, even for those who are used to working from home … set realistic expectations and reduce them by 25 percent. Then you’re in a safe zone.”

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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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