By Dan Gephart, April 11, 2022

Those who thought coming out of a pandemic would be all butterflies and moonbeams are instead finding it to be more giant spiders and snow squalls.

Perhaps the best example of the nation’s mood at this time may be the one everyone is tired of talking about — actor Will Smith marching onto stage at the Oscars and slapping presenter Chris Rock across the face. The act was shocking, aggressive, unexpected, and triggering for many.

Unfortunately, this head-scratching behavior has become all too common, and it’s an unwelcome addition to many workplaces. Just ask your Federal colleagues who work at airports or friends or family who work in retail and restaurants.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s inflation, a rise in violent crime, a war playing out daily on TV, and a more-than-we’re-all-comfortable-with allotment of news articles about nuclear weapons. Recent polling by the American Psychological Association shows that as Americans are trying to come to grips with the strain of the prolonged pandemic, the number and types of serious stressors continues to increase, leading to more stress.

And by the way, this is the general mood at the exact moment that you’re wrapping up plans or, in some cases, actually implementing those plans, to bring employees back to the physical workplace for the first time since early 2020.

Shana Palmieri, LCSW will present the two-hour virtual training Navigating the Realities of Employee Stress, Anxiety and PTSD in the Post-pandemic Workplace on April 13, and I can’t think of a more timely and necessary training. If you’re reading this the morning the FELTG newsletter is sent out, here’s what you need to know: It starts at 1 pm ET today, so hurry and register. If you’re reading this later, email me ([email protected]) and find out how to bring this virtual event directly to supervisors at your agency.

Obviously, you need to be concerned about how all this stress will manifest itself in the workplace, and, believe me, it will. It could be something as minor as an employee being rude to a customer or coworker, or it could lead to harassment, bullying, or even violence. More often, as Shana Palmieri will point out, you’ll find employees who are:

  • Irritable
  • Fatigued
  • Feeling helpless
  • Struggling with self-esteem
  • Nervous
  • Having trouble concentrating

Here are a few tips for how to manage a stressed-out workplace:

Recognize what’s causing stress. We’ve pointed out some of the outside-of-work stressors, but the workplace has its share, too. Look up from your computer and watch your employees. Talk with them and, more importantly, listen. Once you identify possible stressors, determine what you can do to limit them.

Move quickly to provide accommodation. What you see as stress, could be anxiety, depression, or PTSD. You’re not your employee’s doctor, so you shouldn’t be diagnosing your employees. However, if an employee asks for simple work adjustments (a quiet space, flexible schedule, etc.), make those adjustments quickly and efficiently.

[Editor’s note: By most accounts, you are going to be inundated with reasonable accommodation requests for telework in the next few months. Be sure your accommodation procedures are well-oiled, and the supervisors know what to do. For guidance, join Ricky Rowe as he presents Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation When Employees Return to the Workplace, one of eleven sessions taking place April 26-29 during FELTG’s annual Emerging Issues in Federal Law.]

Identify clear goals. Failure to provide well-defined expectations could lead to more stress for many employees. Schedule regular meetings to discuss those expectations and the employee’s progress in reaching them.

Maintain a hostility- and discrimination-free workplace. This goes without saying. Workplace harassment has been on the rise, even though employees have been working at home. Put a stop to any discriminatory or harassing behavior as soon as you’re aware of it and be clear that it won’t be tolerated. This includes retaliation, or more specifically, COVID-related reprisal. FELTG President Deborah Hopkins will cover the Widening Net of Reprisal during FELTG’s Emerging Issues in Federal Employment Law event, and on May 4, during the first of a three-part webinar series Navigating the Return to the Post-pandemic Workplace.

Learn how to handle conflict. It’s inevitable. Yet so few supervisors are skilled or confident enough to truly manage conflict. FELTG’s simulation-based training Jumping In: Be Confident When Managing Conflict will help your supervisors to develop one of the most important managerial tools. Contact me for more information about how to bring this course to your agency.

Lead by example. Manage your own stress. Eat right, get sleep, breathe deeply, and exercise – all things you know should do. [email protected]

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