Applying the Principles of Change Management during the Coronavirus Pandemic | EAPA-SA

People are all different when it comes to their levels of resilience; and any workplace change can cause anxiety in employees.  In this unprecedented time of striving to stay safe during a pandemic and overcoming work interruption through adhering to a national lockdown, how can employers take care of their worker’s mental health and wellbeing?

A few days after Easter 2020 it was reported that 24 staff members within a single Gauteng branch of a South African pharmacy retail chain had tested positive for COVID-19, despite purportedly following stringent hygiene and social distancing precautions that are in line with health department protocol.  All the branch employees have since been placed in quarantine and the store manned with newly assigned personnel. This is a stark reminder that no one has a definitive coronavirus playbook – organisations are currently in uncharted waters as they try to figure out how to protect the health of their employees as well as their businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its detrimental effects of an almost 40-day lockdown in South Africa. 

No one has a definitive coronavirus playbook

So far, organisations have responded by forming task forces, putting a stop to non-essential business travel, postponing professional conferences, having more employees work from home, shaking the dust off emergency response plans, and ordering increasingly stringent safety measures now and for when business starts the journey back to a new normal in May. 

Stressed employees are at risk for increased levels of resentment, fatigue and depression.

In addition to the worry over health risks, there is also heightened concern among employees over job security and the value of their retirement portfolios. Stressed employees are at risk for increased levels of resentment, fatigue and depression. This can lead to diminished teamwork, increased absenteeism as well as problems in the areas of customer service and product quality. So, what can business leaders do to help reduce employee anxiety and stress during this difficult time? 

Improve your corporate communications

It is important to keep connected with employees whether they are working in the premises or remotely. Make sure your employees have plenty of opportunities to tell management and team leaders what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Ensure that the management personnel they are talking to are equipped to constructively listen to suggestions and are empowered to help employees feel safe. Share as much information as possible about the rationale for all management actions taken in response to the threats posed by COVID-19. Even if no changes are necessary for the day-to-day functioning of business, employees will benefit from being informed and reassured. 

It is important to keep connected with employees

Apply the skills you have learned in other change management situations

Any change has the power to make people anxious. The alternative work arrangements and new safety measures that have been brought about in many organisations to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter how sensible and justified they are, still constitute change. It is essential to provide encouragement and acknowledge employee’s sterling efforts throughout the entire process of adapting to essential new protocols and processes. 

  • Recognise that one size does not fit all:  Be conscious of variable clues when it comes to the experience of stress and anxiety from individual employees and respond accordingly. Some employees will be much less concerned about the virus threat and their employer’s strategic responses to it, while others may seem to be bordering on panic. 
  • Look to professional advice:  Remember, you can consult with your EAP about any employee that may concern you. Offer access to psychosocial services, initiated though counselling sessions with your employee assistance practitioners (EAPs) for employees and for their children.
  • Provide regular updated information:  to employees regarding any public health announcements and risk reduction recommendations. Have one person in the organisation collect and disseminate the most accurate, current and useful information about COVID-19 so that every employee is up to speed. This may avoid the problem of employees falling foul of fake news and rumours spread on social media. 
  • Practice self-control and stay calm: It looks like overcoming the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be way more of a marathon than a sprint. Crises such as this one require that leaders demonstrate confidence even if and when they feel vulnerable, as well as having to maintain an organisational vision for employees when their own line of sight is obscured. A leader who can exhibit discipline and self-control even in the midst of crisis is much more capable of making rational decisions, communicating clearly, and working to effectively solve problems. What is more, the quality of leadership you demonstrate during difficult times will leave a powerful mark on employees long after the crisis passes. 

All in all, facing this unforeseen and never-before-experienced challenge provides leaders with the opportunity to learn, prepare afresh and demonstrate your commitment to the welfare of your employees, and to those for whom you are providing care and support. 

Remember, you can consult with your EAP about any employee that may concern you.

Please refer to the EAPA-SA Workplace Guideline COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-19 Virus for further reading.