Pandemic Stress: 3 Ways to Help Your Employees Cope

By Neale deGravelles

As we enter into the month of March, the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S looms over us. Pandemic fatigue, the exhaustion we feel after months of spending extra time and energy dealing with the pandemic changes to our lifestyle and all the struggles it’s brought with it, has well and truly set in.

For your employees, that means stress levels are at an all-time high.  Nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. 

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought particular sources of stress to the legal field. In the U.S., stay-at-home orders beginning in March 2020 resulted in the closing of many courts across the country and caused an abrupt shift to remote work and remote proceedings. 

The legal field faces steep obstacles in navigating an uncertain COVID-19 world, from continued court disruptions to the adoption of new technologies and legal processes.

For your employees on the front lines of these changes, they face the challenge of adapting to these wide-ranging changes to their work processes and environment while coping with major disruptions to their home lives. 

Here’s what you can do to help them cope.

Provide Support for Remote Work

Many firms are still reeling from the sudden shift to remote work caused by the pandemic. But while remote work offers increased flexibility, it also brings it its own set of challenges. Many law firms are still struggling with how to effectively support their workers while they work remotely.

Fully remote employees can suffer from a lack of connection and therefore can be at risk for low employee engagement. To counteract this, it’s important to make sure that your employees feel valued and connected, even when working remotely. 

The best practice, if you can safely do this, is to offer a mix of remote-work options while also encouraging some in-person interactions between employees to help prevent isolation. In one study, roughly 65% of participants reported increased feelings of loneliness since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the pandemic drags on, the mental health impacts of isolation will continue to worsen. Consider offering staggered days in the office for those who are interested to help combat isolation in your employees. 

Maintain Open Communication

This is a stressful time for everyone. Keeping open lines of communication about everything from caregiving responsibilities to workload to remote work options is key to helping relieve employee anxiety. Help employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles, and look for ways to help support them through this difficult time.

Encourage them to take advantage of all options available to them, and let them know that they will not be penalized for exercising leave benefits or working remotely. Reassure them that you are putting their safety—and their wellbeing—at the forefront of your decisions.

Don’t Over-Rely on Tech

Tech tools like Zoom or Slack can be useful productivity tools to help employees communicate and work remotely, but they shouldn’t replace the human connection needed to maintain good relationships with your employees. 

How you communicate in a remote environment has a big effect on the quality of the relationship and the effectiveness of the work. Communicating through email can be particularly challenging, as reading another person’s tone can be difficult. A phone call or even a one-on-one Zoom chat can go a long way toward creating the trust and connection needed to communicate effectively, reduce employee stress or anxiety, and help your employees feel supported.