Managing Employee Fear of COVID-19 in the Manufacturing Industry
July 14, 2020
By Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP
Associate Medical Director
Manufacturing, as a backbone to the United States economy, has been hit hard in the past. First, by changes in the global landscape (outsourcing, trade agreements), and more recently by COVID-19. As of this writing, much manufacturing is still coming online, after being idled for several weeks. While this is welcome news to leaders, employees, and investors, it is not without consequence. It comes back online during a time when COVID-19, in many parts of the United States, is on the rise.
For leaders and employees, it means balancing the risk of COVID-19 with the need to work, earn an income, and stay in business. There is little “work from home” to be done in the world of production. So this means facing the risk head-on, ensuring solid safety plans, and then following through on those plans without fail.
Failure means not only increasing risk of exposure to COVID-19, but increasing employee fears in the workplace. The behavioral health considerations in the workplace cannot be understated. Every employee will have some fear upon returning. This is likely compounded by complexities in personal lives, associated with the major societal and family impacts of the pandemic. And so to work, productively, in the age of a pandemic, requires action on the part of the employer.
One often overlooked element of effective leadership is communication. In particular, now, communication has never been of more value. The status of COVID-19 is ever changing, and this will have a constant impact on how manufacturing operations are conducted. Communication regarding improved safety protocols, screening measures, updates on the state of the company’s health, and how/when potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace will be addressed. Regular communication helps to fill the vacuum of fear. It also keeps employees feeling aware, engaged, and prepared.
As an employer, try and use personal communication when possible, even if this means video-conferencing. Allow for questions, and take time to address fears that may exist. Use written communication as a backup, or for more frequent or small announcements. E-mails, memos, and the like are impersonal, and can inadvertently send the message that leadership does not care enough to talk in person. They also tend to be ignored.
Keeping employees engaged and informed is a great way to combat the fear and uncertainty that is core to this pandemic. In the end, it should not only make your workforce happier, but keep your manufacturing business moving along in these challenging economic times.
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