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Supporting Employees During Reopening

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Reopening? Take Care of your Staff and Yourself

By Dr. Joel Breen, psychiatrist, Serenity Lane

Oregon is beginning to emerge from the complete shutdown of our pre-coronavirus lives. And while it sounds terrific to have our businesses up and running again, the stress felt by employers and employees will be a factor in how successful the reopenings will be.

If you are relaunching your business, you already need to navigate a lot of decisions and requirements. Some may be as seemingly minor as safer use of the office coffee pot; some will be a major reconfiguring of manufacturing processes in the machine shop or reorganizing your retail store to accommodate social distancing. While you make the necessary adjustments, remember to acknowledge to yourself and your employees that the situation is difficult. Your furloughed or laid-off workers face enormous financial stresses. Your returning staff is nervous about their health. As a psychiatrist, I offer a gentle reminder that the mental health of your employees is vital to the longevity of your business.

The presence of a potentially lethal virus produces anxiety, which cycles among thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Our reactions include the physiological (rapid heart rate, stomach ache, sweating), cognitive (worries, “what if” thoughts), behavioral (avoidance, reduced performance) and emotional (fear, panic, frustration, anger, sadness). Each of us reacts to our anxiety based on our emotional state and our reality.

Many of the residential patients I work with at Serenity Lane are anxious. Like returning workers, these recovering patients have left their old lives behind and are entering a new, unknown future. I remind my patients that their anxious thoughts are not necessarily facts. We can observe our thoughts, see them for what they are, and reframe them or let them go. Thus, you and your employees can counterbalance stressful thinking with thoughts that are more realistic. Everyone can feel what they are feeling – and move on to a frame of mind that better serves them and the workplace.

I suggest that you make stress reduction part of your reopening plan.

Work with your human resources manager on actions like proactively connecting staff to healthcare tools. Join an employee assistance program or provide links to free apps. Bring in a speaker about healthy ways to relieve stress. Remember that employees who were anxious or depressed before the pandemic may need professional assistance now.

You may want to adopt new projects to help everyone remember the bigger picture. Perhaps donations to food banks will occur when employees meet productivity goals. I’ve also heard about workplace fun, such as employees wearing silly costumes on Fridays. You might introduce company-wide exercises at the start of each work day or shift to center people in their bodies and keep them physically active. If your organization is mission-driven like mine, thanking employees often for their work is a simple and effective morale boost.

During this unusually anxious period, it is encouraging to remember that we humans are survivors. Our ancestors faced plagues and more, and despite that, we are here today. We are built for survival, which is comforting. Help your employees stay emotionally strong, which will serve them – and your business – well going forward.

 

Dr. Joel BreenDr. Joel Breen serves as Serenity Lane’s psychiatrist for our residential patients. This article was originally published in the Portland Business Journal on May 21,2020.

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