Covid-Related Anxiety and Distress in the Workplace: A Three Part Guide For Managers and Colleagues 1/3

Part 1 HELP yourself and others: Common Concerns and Feelings

The COVID-19 crisis differs from many other natural or man-made catastrophes by its scale, its multi-layered system of stressors affecting the well-being of individuals and societies, and the uncertainty regarding its resolution. We are even less certain about subsequent measures to restore economic and social activity by relaxing these measures and adapting a ‘living with COVID-19’ approach.

In this series of 3 articles, we attempt to set out some simple guidance on the issues facing Colleagues and Managers in the wake of the pandemic crisis and its aftermath. In this first article, we discuss the common concerns and feelings of both workers and their leaders/managers and the support measures that could be put in place to address these concerns. In the second articles, we introduce longer-term strategies and approaches that can be adapted to support Managers and Colleagues as the pandemic unfolds. In the third article, we discuss adapting to change and adjusting to the ‘new normal’.

As Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased, and in some cases temporarily re-introduced, people will experience many different emotional responses to what is happening, whether returning to workplaces after a furlough or a period of remote working or continuing to work in the same setting as they did during a lockdown.

Each colleague will have their own specific concerns regarding their work or personal experience.

Feeling worried, concerned, or anxious is understandable in a situation that is changing and uncertain. These are common responses and show increased vigilance which helps protect us from harm. However, some people will experience intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear. Their responses will be influenced by a wide range of risk factors including vulnerabilities within the family, change in job roles, the threat of redundancy, skill shortages, social networks, and current and previous experience of loss, bereavement, and illness. Feelings are likely to be significantly affected by factors that increase the risks and challenges posed by Covid-19 (e.g. being from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic [BAME] background).



  • During the commute to work.
  • At the workplace e.g. lack of care over people not maintaining physical distancing, worries about the effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Bringing the coronavirus home and infecting loved ones, including those who were asked to shield.
  • Becoming ill, and fear of death as a result, particularly for those at increased risk.


  • Fears of redundancy, redeployment being laid off or re-furloughed.
  • Moral distress, threats to the individual’s purpose and sense of belonging.
  • Changes in work role and practices, and concerns about not having the necessary skills for this.
  • Impact on job performance.
  • Dealing with changing work patterns/shifts, redeployment, loss of control over working routine or locations.
  • Stress because of the effects of the pandemic on existing health conditions and disabilities (e.g. hearing impairment making communication in masks more challenging).
  • Concerns about childcare and other caring responsibilities in a changing environment.
  • Being or feeling unable to challenge unfair or unsafe practices.


  • Manager restructuring to make savings.
  • Cost-cutting leading to a reduction in training and development opportunities.
  • Reduced hours or loss of overtime resulting in reduced income.
  • Personal or household debts run up because of lockdown.


  • Resentment and perceptions of unfairness when people are managed or treated differently.
  • Irritation about colleagues’ varying interpretations of risk at home and work.
  • Frustration/discomfort at having to wear PPE and the effects on job performance.
  • Concerns regarding protection provided at work and managers’ interpretation of risk.
  • Stress for managers when balancing colleague concerns and organisational pressures.
  • Grief due to bereavement or other losses (e.g. teams, colleagues, or roles).
  • Sadness about returning to the workplace having found pleasure in working from home.
  • Feeling emotionally exhausted, numb, lacking enthusiasm or engagement.
  • Feeling disempowered and that things are out of your control.

Communication is key to addressing anxiety and distress. Two-way communication about new ways

of working will help to reduce uncertainty, distress, and ambiguity, and give insight into how to

implement supportive measures.



Are you being proactive? Even if colleagues appear to be coping, ask them how they are and whether they need additional support. Remember to look out for clues that people are ‘just bearing up’, even though they say that everything is ok.


Are you helping to find solutions? As a manager, you are in the best position to support your colleagues. Be flexible in meeting their needs or in finding alternative solutions.


Are you communicating enough? Keep people regularly informed about steps to make the workplace Covid-19 secure. It is better to repeat and re-present information at times when anxiety is heightened. Remember, people may not be taking things in because of lowered cognitive processing.


Do you know how to look out for signs of stress? Knowing your team will help you spot changes in behaviour, such as changes in performance, irritability, lack of attention, being clumsy, making mistakes, social withdrawal, uncharacteristic or unpredictable behaviour. If you notice these signs, ask how the colleague is and give them time and space to tell you.


Can you listen actively? Ask colleagues what help and support would make a difference. Use active listening skills to make sure they feel you are genuinely listening. These include have the discussion when and where you can be free from distractions/interruptions; keep an open mind; avoid jumping to conclusions and solutions; let the colleague tell you what is important; ask one question at a time; don’t rush; be attentive; summarise what you’ve heard and repeat back.



Do you speak to your manager? Tell your manager about your concerns and needs. If you are uncomfortable about discussing your personal circumstances with your own manager, ask someone to come with you, e.g. a trade union representative, HR or another manager, or colleague. If your manager does not know, they can’t help.


Can you look out for others? Take care of colleagues by noticing if they behave differently to normal. Are there signs of irritability, lack of attention, being clumsy, making mistakes, being withdrawn, uncharacteristic or unpredictable behaviour? If so, signpost them to the support on offer, such as your EAP service, mental health first aiders, or informal support from trusted co-workers.


As lockdown restrictions change, we should all continue to focus on the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues. Ensuring that health and wellbeing are prioritised will help to optimise work performance. It is in everybody’s interest to have a physically and psychologically safe working environment. Covid-19 presents unprecedented challenges for safe working, health, and wellbeing. Act now to prioritise health and wellbeing in your workplace, at home, and out and about.


Source: British Psychological Society GUIDANCE Covid-related anxiety and distress in the workplace: A guide for Managers and Colleagues | BRE40a | 02.09.2020

Written by:

Marie Church
RN BSc Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (OH) Expert Witness
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist MSc (BABCP Accredited)