Coping with stress during COVID- 19

SWP contributed to a radio session in Zimbabwe with various experts on how to deal with consequences of COVID- 19.

The radio session shared coping mechanisms for COVID -19 related stress and how best to administer psychosocial support during this time. Dr. Chirisa, a leading psychologist in the country, provided additional material for how employers can support their employees’  mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

Employers and the world of work are genuinely concerned with the impact of COVID-19 on business operations for many reasons, specifically misinformation as it can lead to increased anxiety levels in the general public and employees. This calls for employers to ensure that infomration is accurate and relayed from trusted and credible sources to reduce anxiety and stress levels within the workplace.

Why employee mental health is important for employers

As companies adjust workplaces with protective measures for employees, new realities such as teleworking, and social distancing are being established. These may have a negative impact on the wellness of employees and their productivity.  Hence, it is important for employers to provide both health and staff welfare to employees, including psychosocial support. By providing mental health support for employees, companies can have attainable levels of productivity and maintain the bottom line to ensure business continuity.

What employers can do to protect and provide psychosocial and mental health for employees:

  1. Promote trust by communicating

Employers can have regular and clear-cut communication with all staff to reduce anxiety, which may be caused by both external and internal factors.

  1. Provide psychosocial support

Employers can include psychosocial wellness support as an aspect of holistic wellness. This support can include referrals to psychologists, toll-free hotlines for psychological services, and a directory of service providers who are available to support employees during COVID -19.

  1. Promote dialogue

Employers must be mindful to keep an open line of communication with their workforce regarding expected changes  post COVID- 19. These changes, which will affect may possibly become the new reality, will affect the world of work and business operations.

What employers can do to protect mental health and provide psychosocial support  for employees

The anxiety levels of the general public and employees are high due to the amount of misinformation from unreliable sources.  This calls for employers to ensure the provision of accurate information from trusted sources to reduce anxiety and stress levels within the workplace.

Employers need to have regular and clear-cut communication with all staff to reduce some anxiety which may be caused by rumours of downsizing and retrenchments. If possible, guarantees of the continued working relationship must be made. Where there are risks of separation, measures must be put in place to ensure post separation management in order to fully prepare all for the changes which may come.

Employers must also be mindful in preparing their employees for the changes which are going to be a reality post the COVID- 19 era which will affect the world of work and various business operations.

What employees can do to avoid stress

The employees must be made aware that they have a responsibility for their own health and wee-being. Some interventions that employees practice themselves include simple measures such as:

  1. Remaining calm and ensuring that they access information from trusted sources.
  2. Following the protective guidelines which have been shared by WHO and their local governments to ensure correct and consistent use of PPE.
  3. Being self-aware of any physical or mental changes and to seeking help immediately if they recognise any changes.
  4. Utilizing resources as psychosocial support network directory and getting help when needed.
  5. Checking up on family, friends and colleagues as it is important to stay socially connected to maintain the feeling of belonging to a community during COVID-19.

Consider vulnerable groups

Employers must take into consideration vulnerable groups and establish support for these individuals. They need to be mindful to those who have a history of abusive relationships because , home is not a safe space. Where possible, employers should establish special safe places where these individuals can go to access information channels such as websites, radio shows or online support groups for their immediate safety.

Considerations must also be made for those who have disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women and for those with other underlying immune-suppressing medical conditions.

Where possible, establishing toll free hotlines with well-equipped staff cannot be overemphasized. Online platforms can also be established with experts to ensure that employees can access the help they need during COVID-19. Employers are encouraged to think outside the box to protect the health and wellness of all employees.

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lack of enabling environment for social dialogue at the workplace level, despite the provision of legislative acts that protect and promote workplace cooperation is a reoccuring issue  in Kenya. To implement good policy there must be a fertil ground.

Therefore SWP developed the UP!  project. Together with Swedish companies as an entry point, and with unions i South africa and Kenya. 

In Kenya SWP created the SWP UP! Programme targeting skills development of the union Shop Stewards from 18 companies in the Automotive sector in Kenya during 2021. As a result, the Stewards were able to use their skills to build trust and cooperation with management in new ways to avoid conflicts. 

A second cohort of training, in close cooperation with union AUKMW, takes place in 2022.

The training allows shop stewards to step out of their daily routines and understand their role and the purpose of their union, understand the labour market context, the laws that regulate relationships and the business itself. But on a human level, many shop stewards also highlighted that they feel respected as human beings, and that they have developed the skills to engage with supervisors and management and experience respect in professional relations. The experiences had deeply impressed them and helped to project the vision of dialogue and mutual respect and their own potential as a means to change workplaces.

The intervention of the SWP programme had a direct effect at the workplaces, where shop stewards listed several cases where they had managed to intervene and secure results in dialogue with management, avert crises or find solutions based on opportunities and the communication skills obtained during the SWP training. For the Amalgamated Metal Workers Unions in Kenya, the shop stewards pointed to how the training had enabled them to design their own strategies at the workplace in relation to supervisors and staff, and to achieve many concrete results.

Based on this shop steward upskilling, I feel confident that as a union we now have change ambassadors that will grow the industry, protect, and promote decent work principles for both the employer and the employees represented. And that disputes will be dealt with at the workplace level by though consultative dialogue.

Rose Omamo

General Secretary
Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers