HomeOpinion & AnalysisManaging stress in the workforce during COVID-19

Managing stress in the workforce during COVID-19

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AS the chats with my friend and fellow writer, Sithandekile Magida continued, we came to the discussion on the stressful conditions that the population is currently going through because of the COVID-19 pandemic and how these could be mitigated in the work environment. It gave us another opportunity to pen an article together.

Jonah Nyoni/Sithandekile Magida

In the words of the Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. This belief by Branson shows that the world has evolved since the industrialisation era, while the product and the production process were the issues then, the new thinking is that the workforce needs to be taken care of in a more empathetic way.

Understanding the workforce is critical to the business as it endeavours to reconcile economic as well as moral arguments when it comes to managing the workforce. This is so in the era of this COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc to humankind.

Working with batted breath

Zimbabwe suffers from high rates of unemployment, low levels of productivity and a declining economy. Workers at the few companies that remain afloat present a generally stressed outlook. Stress-related disorders have become one of the largest categories of occupational stress. Work stress is a major contributor to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and mental problems.

Organisational health has been put at risk. It is not too remote for tempers to flare at the minutest of misunderstanding. Is there a burnout? Does the organisation just want to keep open when they house worried and sick workers? Is there someone who is designated to talk and listen to the workers who need support psychologically?

This pandemic has caused so many fears besides sickness and loss of life. People go to work wondering who will be next to test positive for COVID-19, who will be next to die or whether they will survive the pandemic.

Employee wellness

As a result of this pandemic and other such detrimental situations, the loss of wages, salaries and productivity due to stress-related conditions such as burnout, depression and psychosomatic disorders has been indicated in the workforce. Labour demands are predictors of variables like emotional exhaustion, burnout and health problems.

In some instances, the depth of the problems are not well documented and acted upon as the companies may not have the capacity to do so. Even if they have such services, the workforce may not necessarily utilise the same well because of fear of stigmatisation. Companies should, however, push for the total wellbeing of their workers. In other words, it is important that the business realises that the means to a profitable end is to ensure that the workforce is committed to the cause.

Employee development

Companies need to invest in staff development and welfare programmes to keep the them motivated beyond their salaries.

Companies need to take part in developing the total person such that they become an asset not only at work, but in the home and in the greater community. By taking care of the employees, companies have gained mileage and have benefitted from more loyal workers.

Create a ideal work environment

The workplace is a “home” for the workforce and all the workers are a community of people who rely on each other to advance the organisational goal. It is a place where workers spend one third of their waking moments.

Companies do well to invest in infrastructure and a human environment that is conducive to good productive outcomes. While the country is operating at an unusual mode at this point in time, there are companies that have taken great strides in ensuring that the work environment is labour force friendly.  Companies have invested in programmes and facilities that work to improve the lives of the worker and indeed their families. This leads to peace of mind to the workforce, freeing their minds to concentrate on the core business of the companies.

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