COVID-19 pandemic stress and your employees: 5 ways to show support and understanding

The coronavirus pandemic is causing stress for everyone. But it may be even more stressful for employees with disabilities. 

For example, some employees might have a disability that makes it harder to get work done under current conditions. They may need accommodations at work that they didn’t need before the pandemic. Or their disability might mean they’re at higher risk of infection or complications from COVID-19. 

There are many stressors you can’t fix for your employees right now. But there are steps you can take to make their work lives easier. Here are some ways you can help all of your employees — and especially those with disabilities — manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Adjust your sick leave policy for the pandemic

The federal government’s new paid sick leave requirements are a step in the right direction. But loopholes mean not every employee will be guaranteed enough sick leave to manage COVID-19.

The recommended quarantine period for COVID-19 is 14 days. Employees will need to stick to that, for their health and everyone else’s. Keep in mind that the coronavirus can make people sick for weeks, especially if they have complications. 

Come up with an inclusive sick leave policy that accounts for the coronavirus. And communicate it clearly to your employees, so they know their job will be safe if they get sick.

2. Reduce stigma about requesting reasonable accommodations

Employers should always offer reasonable accommodations to employees, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

But because of the changes brought about by the pandemic, some employees who didn’t need accommodations in the past may suddenly find that they do. Or they might need new or different types of accommodations than they’ve used before. And anyone who’s facing new barriers to doing their job is probably feeling added stress right now.

That’s why now is a good time to remind all of your employees that reasonable accommodations are available for people with disabilities. Leaders who talk about accommodations can help employees feel more comfortable disclosing a disability. As life changes rapidly, employees may not be thinking of all the options available to them. Knowing that you’ll support their needs could go a long way to helping reduce stress and stigma.

3. Set up virtual social events to help reduce pandemic stress

If your workplace is remote now, help your employees stay connected with each other by setting up virtual social events.

Spending time with others during a virtual coffee break or happy hour can help reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. And by keeping people connected, you’ll be helping your employees to feel more comfortable reaching out to each other when they need to.

4. Be inclusive when sharing information

Make sure to keep your employees informed of any important changes. When you do, use accessible methods of communication. 

For example, share important information in a written format, even if you announce it during a meeting. A written format lets employees revisit the information and gives them time to process and respond. It can also be helpful for employees who use screen reading technology. Consider using a mix of words and images to convey information.

5. Minimize changes when possible

The routines of most employees in the United States have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. For employees with certain types of disabilities, like autism, change can be even harder than it is for their co-workers.

Try to balance offering flexibility with limiting the number of disruptions. For example, employees may need to work from a new location, but maybe you can keep meeting at the usual time. If employees need to change their work schedule, see if you can maintain some consistency in which people are working together and/or offer ways for teams to stay in touch. 

When changes do need to happen, make sure to communicate them clearly. Ask employees for their preferences and suggestions. And understand that it might take some employees longer than others to adjust to new routines.

During this unusual time, businesses should stay focused on disability inclusion — even with so many new and competing priorities. An inclusive culture will help your company to weather the storm, by enabling all of your employees to thrive.

Here are some links to other helpful resources about stress, anxiety, and the pandemic: