The Omicron COVID-19 variant has caused concern amongst global leaders, healthcare professionals and the public, particularly due to its reportedly higher re-infection rate.
US president Joe Biden said Omicron was “cause for concern, not for panic”, however with uncertainty growing within the workplace, leaders and HR teams will need to support their teams through the change.
1. Support the whole employee
“Employee wellbeing, both physical and mental, should be an absolute priority as we navigate this new variant,” highlights Lesley Cooper, management consultant and Founder of WorkingWell.
“Not only is the future uncertain, but this is coupled with the emotional strain of potentially having to go through working from home, lockdown, closures and cancelled Christmases all over again.”
Cooper continues: “We know that staff are already exhausted from the constant changes of the past 18 months, so proactive support as we learn what Omicron is going to mean will be crucial.
“This support should be two fold. First, psychologically safe spaces to explore feelings, anxieties and challenges with empathy and understanding.
“This could be within teams, with line managers or with healthcare professionals depending on what is required.
“Alongside this, leaders should be working with teams to build personal resilience tools and techniques, such as emotional regulation, learning to let go, how to regain confidence and belief in yourself, and develop effective coping strategies.”
“This variant is likely to be triggering for some; proactive vigilance and flexibility will be essential,” Lesley concludes.
2. Avoid stresscalation
Having just started to get back into the swing of office life, news of the Omicron variant is making people anxious all over again. What will the coming weeks bring?
And this stress comes on top of the reservoir of stress built up in the last two years, as well as the stress we typically experience in the holiday season.
The first thing to say about stress is that it’s normal. But the second thing to say is that stress is as contagious as COVID–maybe even more so.
“This has a serious effect on others. In other words, stress has a domino effect. Your stress becomes else’s stress and this becomes someone else’s stress. I call this ‘stresscalation’,” says Boroson.
Drop a few of these into an overheated organization and stress becomes the default way of doing business.
Stopping the stresscalation is not always easy. “It doesn’t matter where the stress came from, or whose fault it is. Once you are stressed, in that moment, it is your responsibility. You are holding the hot potato. What you do with it is up to you,” explains Moore.
“Are you going to dump the stress onto someone else…or find a better way?”
3. Have empathy for differing viewpoints
Reactions to possible changes both in the workplace and outside, are likely to be mixed, and being empathetic to different employee perspectives is going to be an essential requirement for any leader or manager during the turbulent weeks ahead, advises Margo Manning, leadership and management consultant and author of The Step Up Mindset For Senior Managers.
“Having the ability to understand another’s emotional state is a skill worth nurturing, particularly at this time of constant change and upheaval.
“Knowing and responding authentically and honestly to this will gain you a level of respect that is only given when the other person feels they have been heard, understood and respected.”
“You will work with colleagues who are like you and some who are very different. A great senior manager will actively promote diversity and differences of opinions even when not in total agreement with them,” says Manning.
4. Remain flexible and open-minded
“There is still much we don’t know about the emerging Omicron variant and things are changing at pace which puts a considerable pressure on leaders and HR teams to take action as swiftly as possible to protect their teams” comments Teresa Boughey, Founder of Inclusion 247.
“Those strategizing and planning their responses should follow the safety rules laid out, as well as remaining flexible when these change again, and creating provisions for sick pay and quarantine rules.”
“Open-mindedness is key. Leaders need to be open-minded once again concerning remote and flexible working so they can protect the physical wellbeing of their teams.
“Leaders also need to be open-minded over the fact they are likely to be confronted with many questions from their team members, not just on what the new policies are, but also on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, particularly as many are fatigued over continuing rules and restrictions. Most importantly, they should be open-minded to listen to their concerns and fears,” highlights Boughey.
5. Clear and consistent communication – even when you don’t have the answers
“If your announcements aren’t clear on what Omicron might mean for your workplace or managers neglect to address key safety or wellbeing issues, the uncertainty will spread through myths and rumors causing a much bigger issue.” continues McLachlan.
“Any changes or new safety policies should be explicit with repeated reminders through a variety of communication channels, as when people are mentally tired, they can miss subtle cues. It can also help to ground people by reminding them what will stay the same, such as active support networks or certain aspects of their role,” says Meager.
“As there are still many uncertainties, you are unlikely to be able to tell teams exactly what is going to happen next. If a decision is unknown, let people know this is still an open decision and why, and always deliver updates when you say you’re going to.”
“In times of uncertainty, clarity is your friend.” concludes McLachlan.