Leadership Strategies for Returning to Work by Annette Cumberbatch (Mrs.) Bsc. Msc

Strategies for Leaders to Motivate employees and Alleviate Anxiety and Stress in Employees when Returning to

Work during the COVID19 Pandemic

Business as usual is highly unlikely on returning to work during the COVID 19 pandemic as COVID 19 will create a new type of normalcy within the workplace. As such, it cannot be overly emphasized that team leaders and team members need to work together in an effort to shape an efficient and effective type of normalcy, the success of which is dependent on proactive and supportive measures by leadership to encourage and maintain employees’ emotional health and wellbeing and by extension increased performance and productivity in the workplace. 

Physical Measures to alleviate stress in the workplace:

  • Ensure that work spaces are industrially cleaned prior to the reopening process and that a detailed cleaning programme that focuses on frequently used and touched spaces is implemented going forward.
  • Maintain an adequate supply of masks and hand sanitizer for those employees who may not have their own.
  • Place posters on safety measures (how persons wash their hands, wear and sanitize their masks etc.) within employees view. 
  • Verbally and consistently remind employees about safety measures as employees could become complacent and revert to old habits.
  • Leave doors that are accessible to staff members ajar to avoid fear of contamination.
  • Redesign open-plan office spaces with suitable partitions to ensure maintenance of physical distancing.
  • Maintain physical distancing in lunch rooms and meeting rooms.
  • Provide technological training for employees so that they better understand how to work with technology and dissipate feelings of frustration. 
  • Provide temperature checks for employees and customers of service type businesses.

Tips for organisational leaders to assist team members emotionally

  • Personally reach out to your team and remain present. Being present physically might not always be possible but being available and accessible is a necessity.
  • Regular communication. Ensure that communication is factual and purposeful. Provide staff with regular status updates as well as any changes in work arrangements or conditions of employment.  Lack of communication could result in, rumours, anxiety, unfounded conclusions and confusion while supporting an open dialogue grows confidence and generates solutions.

Find creative ways of communicating: 

  • Email your team frequently.
  • Engage in video conference meetings.
  • Whats-app conversations and group chats.
  • Encourage connectivity. Communicate frequently with those employees who may still be working remotely since routine communication could alleviate uncertainty in terms of when next persons would hear from you. 
  • Allow your team members to share their challenges. Share a few personal challenges while remaining professional since people appreciate knowing that they are not facing struggles alone. Sharing experiences also make you more relatable. 
  • Give your employees hope. Speak about your current and future goals and how the company plans to achieve them during COVID19 and post COVID19.
  • Find creative and innovative ways to empower your team for eg. foster creative thinking and encourage team members to make suggestions. Reward employees for worthwhile ideas as small successes build morale and improve productivity. 
  • Suggest to those employees who have been negatively impacted by the crisis and not coping efficiently to see a mental health professional. 
  • Be reasonable in your expectations at this time.
  • More than ever, your team needs your leadership and you are responsible to safely guide team members through this challenge! 

Self Care Tips

In order to successfully lead your team you need to be aware of your own emotional health and to take better care of yourself. Hence, the emotional health tips below are suggested as a means of empowering both you and your team members towards improved emotional health.

  • Remain calm, stay confident and steadfast. 
  • Have a positive attitude and show kindness and compassion. Being kind lifts dark moods and improves wellbeing.  
  • Refrain from constantly listening to bad news.  Screen the news you listen to and avoid listening to news too close to bedtime.
  • Develop an exercise plan, to nullify the effects of anxiety on body and mind.
  • Meditation and prayer is effective when facing difficult situations. Remember God is in control of this COVID 19 situation not you. Allow His word to comfort and direct you.
  • Participate in a hobby
  • Find a safe space to relax and deep breathe. Try focusing on your breathing, allowing it to become slower and deeper as you relax.
  • Explore the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy self help course online at Looking After Yourself (as cited in Baker, 2020).
  • Mental resilience includes being aware of your own thoughts, reframing negative thoughts into more realistic and positive thoughts that results in balanced thinking, (Baker, 2020) as this allows you to quickly adapt to adversity.
  • Remember that you will be OK when this passes if you follow the directions and maintain physical distancing.

Here are some other resources you may find useful:

  • Barbados Society of Psychology
  • Headspace (mobile app)
  • Psychology Today

In conclusion, COVID 19 may be with the world for a while but you are not powerless! We each have the ability to be supportive and to accept support. The traits of compassion, care and understanding could prove helpful in the process of empowering your team towards the effective completion of their daily tasks in an environment that is fraught with fear and uncertainty. 

Annette Cumberbatch (Mrs.) Bsc. Msc.

Counselling Psychologist


Baker, S. (2020, March). The psychological effects of working in isolation – The home working challenge. Retrieved from.”

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