Advice for employers: communicating with staff during lockdown

Written by Anna Bishop
May 6, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created great concern for many employers, as the uncertainty of the current global situation has left many worried about not only the future of their business, but the emotional wellbeing of their employees too.

The impact of the government imposed lockdown will vary across your organisation, and while some employees may be coping well at home, others may be struggling. In times of crisis, all reactions - no matter what they may be - are completely valid, and it’s essential that employers are able to support each staff member’s emotional wellbeing, no matter how they are coping under the current circumstances. 

The British Red Cross believes that communication and kindness are key to navigating through this unusual and challenging time; which is why we’re offering practical advice on how to maintain communication with your team during lockdown, and how to best offer support for those expressing, or showing signs of, emotional distress.

 

Maintaining communication with employees during lockdown

 

Reach out to all your employees, and understand their concerns

Each of your workers in lockdown will have their own individual concerns, whether they’re working from home or on furlough. Our emotions drive our behaviour, and it’s important to remember that with the pandemic aside, your staff may be facing wider issues in their home life that may cause emotional distress. Perhaps they are concerned about family members with the virus, exhausted by juggling work and childcare, or distressed about finances, and they may be exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety and fear that is affecting their behaviour.  As an employer, you need to be aware of each employee’s individual circumstances in order to communicate with and support them effectively.

Additionally, don’t assume that employees are fine just because they don’t exhibit obvious signs of distress - you must support all employees, and go out of your way to make each team member feel included - even those that seem well on the surface.

 

Stay connected

With many workforces now on furlough or working remotely, it can be challenging for employers to maintain the same level of communication they would in the workplace. As a result of this, unusual behaviour becomes increasingly difficult to recognise, and the behavioural changes of your employees can go unnoticed when there is no effective communication strategy in place. 

Tools such as video conferencing allow employers to virtually meet with their employees on a regular, one to one basis, where you can provide support and resources for those who may be struggling. While not having a physical workspace makes this much more challenging, you should try where possible to provide the same level of support as usual. 

It’s also important to retain some social aspects of the workplace, as work presents a great opportunity for social interaction. If your resources allow, you could set time aside each week for a social team activity, such as a quiz. Setting regular time aside for these kinds of activities ensure that all employees feel included, valued and appreciated. 

Enabling better communication is the first step to providing better support for your employees during lockdown; once you are able to foster consistent communication, you will be better equipped to help those who may be struggling.

 

Supporting employee emotional wellbeing

 

Don’t overlook your own mental health

A significant factor to remember as an employer through this challenging period is to not sideline your own emotional wellbeing. Just as your employees may be experiencing emotions such as stress, fear and anxiety, you aren’t immune from feeling this way yourself. Don’t assume that your emotions aren’t as valid or important as your employees’, as this can have a detrimental affect on both yourself and how you approach others. 

Additionally, if you lead by example through acknowledging any challenges you may be facing, this can help establish an open and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable enough to communicate their own troubles.

 

Recognise behaviour changes

There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to emotional wellbeing, and there aren’t always explanations as to why someone is feeling or acting in a certain way, particularly when it comes to powerful emotions such as anger, distress or depression. The nature of these powerful emotions makes it difficult not only for those experiencing them, but also for employers who need to offer support. 

Therefore, it’s essential for employers to look out for any changes in employee behaviour that could indicate a wider issue. For example, if an employee is much quieter than usual, or isn’t responding to other staff members, this could be a sign that they’re struggling. Likewise, if an employee seems angry, or disconnected from work, it may indicate a larger problem - one that may go beyond the workplace. 

 

Acknowledge difficult situations

One of the best ways to support an employee who is struggling is to acknowledge the situation they are in without judgement. Acknowledgement can relieve anxiety, and it provides an opportunity for people to communicate their feelings comfortably.

This is especially important for employers facing difficult conversations such as relaying negative information, or furloughing staff. In these situations, it’s always best to be open and honest - don’t make promises you cannot realistically keep, as this can make situations worse and create further distress for you as an employer. Employees respond much better to troubling work situations when they are communicated with in a direct and honest way.

 

Communicate and listen 

Under the current circumstances, employees may be less likely to voice their feelings when they aren’t able to do it in person. Therefore, you must show your employees that you are open to listening to their concerns, and that they aren’t burdening you or any other colleagues by expressing themselves. This way, if an employee does confide in you with feelings of distress, you can confidently approach the situation. 

When listening to them, you should listen actively, ask questions (though not too many) and be empathetic towards the situation without being overly-intrusive. 

 

Offer support and resources 

It’s important to remember that even under the current circumstances, professional boundaries and personal limitations still apply. You aren’t an employee's best friend, nor a professional psychologist but a provider of emotional support. Sometimes employees may require more specialist help or support, and you must recognise that this isn’t a weakness on your part but a professional responsibility you have towards your employees.

However, where you can offer support, you should provide resources that enable your employees to regain a sense of control and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed, such as:

  • Regular updates on how the business is progressing, even if this isn’t positive news
  • Internal policies and procedures for employees (both those working and on furlough)
  • Information on where to seek further health advice
  • Recommended resources that can help with mental wellbeing, such as mindfulness apps or local support groups
  • Tips on how to occupy their time in isolation with activities that promote better wellbeing

By giving employees the tools they need to help themselves, you enable them to take control of their emotions, and prioritise their emotional wellbeing. On top of this, you build a supportive culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their emotions to their employer. In such a unique and challenging time, your employees need to be confident that they are able to approach you with their concerns.

We understand that all organisations will have different resources available to them, and while not all support methods will be possible, it’s important to put these tips for better communication into practice where possible. Simply reaching out to your employees is a positive first step in creating a more supportive and communicative environment.


At the British Red Cross, our advice is formed around the CALMER framework: Consider, Acknowledge, Listen, Manage, Enable and Resource. To find out more about how CALMER can help you better support your employees, see the short video below.

 

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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