Managing Pandemic-related Stress
Managing Pandemic-related Stress

Posted on 30 April 2020

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As part of circuit breaker measures, Singapore is almost in complete lockdown. No one is going out, restaurants, gyms and other entertainment venues are closed, and on the rare trip to the supermarket or bank all you can see are masked faces. It’s a grim picture, made even worse by the constant stream of updates and Covid-related news on your phone or laptop. So it’s no surprise that many are feelings the effects of stress, anxiety and fear – becoming irritable, depressed and finding it difficult to concentrate.

Working, whether from home or in one of the essential services heavily relied upon, in this situation is difficult and messy. Customer service operatives have been reporting torrents of angry callers, while executives wonder if they will be furloughed or retrenched.

So what can you do, as an employer or employee, to keep your head above things and manage this new, stressful environment?

Employees can…

• Communicate openly

No matter the company or position, no one should be working alone. Talk to your colleagues and your boss about your difficulties, and don’t be afraid to negotiate special requests in this unusual situation.

Nicholas Bloom, economics professor at Stanford University, recommended recreating “office chat” by having colleagues meet via video conferencing for general conversation and to catch up. Just reminding someone that you are there for each other, inside and outside of work, can make all the difference.

• Be honest about difficulties

Though similar to the above, it is especially important to flag factors that may affect your work performance. Though most of us have no qualms talking about metrics and measurements, we balk at admitting psychological strain that is taking its toll on individual productivity.

But being open and communicative means owning up to mistakes and difficult situations as well. So keep your lines open and don’t be afraid to mention it if Covid-19 is getting you down – you will be surprised how many feel the same and will come to your support.

• Improve themselves

Without a long commute and chores like picking the kids up from school, many of us have found ourselves with a lot of free time before, after, and even during work. It’s a good time to pick up a skill you are interested in, or finish some short courses.

In particular, you can pick up some skills that are useful for your job, or look into marketable qualifications. If you find yourself with too many areas that need improvement, you may wish to consult your superior or colleagues to find out what you should prioritise.

Employers can…

• Be transparent and keep communication flowing

In a time of uncertainty, an employer can step up and provide assurance and clear communication. Employees understand that tough decisions will have to be made – they just want to be certain of them so they can plan what to do.

By being more transparent and discussing worst-case scenarios, a Psychology Today article noted, managers cannot only reduce stress but also other dysfunctional outcomes, like increased gossip and decreased commitment, which often occurs when employees are faced with ambiguous situations. Furthermore, information sharing is often seen as an indicator of trust, so managers who are more open are also likely to be seen as more credible and trustworthy.

• Empower workers

As most people are working from home, they are less able to get approval from higher-ups, fill forms or engage with each other. An employer should hence take the lead in empowering workers to make their own decisions, or give them more permissions and executive ability, to prevent exhausting runarounds.

• Be available for their employees

Perhaps the most important thing a manager or director can do for their employees, however, is to be there for them. Knowing that your company has your back provides an employee with a tremendous boost of confidence and a great sense of security. And they’re more likely to stay once this is over.

Be it Zoom meetings or a quick Whatsapp message, make sure those under you know that you’re there for them, and that you are all working to pull through this together.

Business photo created by jcomp - www.freepik.com

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