Color & Control:

Decreasing anxiety in the workplace

cartoon of a girl sitting at a desk displaying signs of anxiety

By Asha Tarry

In the last few months, all of us have been dealing with more anxiety than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This anxiety has only increased as many of us are going back to work, job hunting or facing our “new normal.” For those caring for others living with disabilities or underlying medical conditions, there are a multitude of additional safety concerns as workplaces and local neighbourhoods open up.

Based on my experience, I have come to see there are certain steps each of us can take to decrease our anxieties as we go about our daily lives and interact with others.

1. Be creative, flexible, and transparent. Personally and corporately, we need to be creative and flexible in our thinking and our planning. The most important thing we can do is be responsible in ensuring all employees are safe. Companies should do their absolute best to be very transparent about what they can provide their workers and what limitations they may have; limited personal protective equipment (PPE), workplace locations where it’s difficult to adhere to social distancing measures, the need for changes to hours or responsibilities etc. Talking about what you see and feel with your manager/employer in a calm and organized way will help them a) understand your need to feel more trusting towards your workspace, and b) make improvements. Hopefully with open dialogue, management can listen and learn and take everyone’s concerns into consideration and workers can be given good guidance.

At times like these, both parties—employees and employers—may be doing, or may be asked to do, things they had not done in the past. It will require flexible thinking on everyone’s part to adapt to these changes. Options might include; alternative work schedules, wellness incentives for staff—like the occasional mental health day, if that’s not already available—or organizing morale boosting activities.

Safety first

Aside from being transparent about their reasoning, actions and limitations, an employer is responsible for ensuring the safety of their workers. To do this, honesty is the best policy. When initiating the conversation regarding their “new normal” managers must do their part to manage productivity issues along with doubts, insecurities, and stressors. It is particularly important to approach this situation with kindness at the same time as putting checks and balances in place to guarantee policies are enforced with workers, outside suppliers and customers.

2Respecting difference. Every employee is a unique individual who will have their own ideas about what the workplace should offer them. Some workplaces will have more supports than others. From the research I have done, the conversations I have had, I believe it is imperative that companies don’t hide. They need to actively acknowledge the suffering, grief and concerns of their employees and find ways to do what is best for them:

a) One option managers have is to direct workers to social services or provide the appropriate benefits/in-house counseling services for their employees’ mental health at times like this.

b) Having an open-door policy to discuss concerns can be extremely helpful in decreasing those nasty negative feelings that pop up around the workplace. By being involved, both employees and \ employers can be more sensitive to what is going on and co-work on solutions, be they for individuals or whole groups.

Creating a safe place

Ideally you can find and agree on a safe place to discuss mutual concerns without disrupting workflow. It could be a quiet, socially distanced space in person, a private zoom call, or a meeting with a team to discuss options/alternatives. If asked, your company’s human resources team may be able to provide ideas as well.

Building community

A workplace that takes the feelings and concerns of others into consideration, will guarantee a more accepting, enjoyable, and understanding workplace—now, during COVID 19 and as our recovery transitions.

Helping to decrease anxiety around health concerns and safety as we live and work in the “new normal” is, after all, in all of our best interests. And, I’m willing to bet taking a kind, caring communication-based approach will lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction as well.

Asha Tarry is an author, an award-winning community mental health advocate, psychotherapist, and certified life-coach.Tarry is the founder of Behavioral Health Consulting Services.

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