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Socially supportive working environments can help to promote positive mental health and wellness and prevent mental health concerns in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following recommendations provide guidance and information to employees and their co-workers in socially supporting one another through this time uncertainty.

Be Socially Supportive of Co-Workers

Whether you are working from home or-in office or taking time away from work, a helpful strategy for maintaining the positive mental health and resiliency of employees is to check in regularly with co-workers and offer mutual support. Supporting others through difficult times can be beneficial for both the person receiving support and the helper, and can create solidarity in responding to COVID-19 as a team. Providing and receiving peer support from co-workers with shared experiences in the workplace can also improve an employee’s sense of control, social belonging, and self-esteem. This support can be offered to fellow co-workers through active listening, open discussion, empathy/compassion, and information-sharing about available supports.

Reduce Stigma and Discrimination

Employees can socially support their co-workers by taking active steps to reduce stigma and discrimination in the workplace as a result of COVID-19. Social stigma in the context of physical and mental health occurs when there is a negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. Social stigma often results from fear and uncertainty about things that are not fully understood, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, social stigma is especially common in disease outbreaks. The current situation has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours towards people of certain ethnic backgrounds and anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus. In essential workplaces, social stigma may be especially prevalent towards individuals that have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in contact with a positive case and are returning to the workplace after self-isolation.

Employees can help to reduce stigma and discrimination within and outside of the workplace by staying informed, knowing the facts, and engaging in the following practices:

  • COVID-19 has affected people from many countries across the world. Do not attach COVID-19 to any ethnicity, nationality, or geographical location. It is important to be empathic towards those who have been affected by COVID-19 in any country, as those who have been affected have done nothing wrong.
  • Respect the privacy of co-workers. If a co-worker discloses information about their health status, or that of their family members, do not share these disclosures with other co-workers or staff members. It is okay to reach out to co-workers who are away from work to offer your support, but avoid asking them about the reason for their absence or inquiring about their health status. Personal health information, including a positive test(s) for COVID-19, is private and confidential.
  • Be inclusive and respectful. Employees who are returning to work after self-isolation are not a source of infection to other people. Socially avoiding these individuals can negatively impact their mental health, and can increase feelings of fear and anxiety throughout the entire workplace. Support these co-workers by embracing their return to work and offering to assist them in adjusting to the new circumstances.
  • Avoid making assumptions about the reasons for a co-worker’s absence or making judgements about a co-worker’s decision to take time away from work. Each lived experience with COVID-19 is different for all employees and their family members and proposes unique challenges for each employee based on their life circumstances. Be respectful and empathetic towards employees who are away from work and do not make negative statements towards co-workers who have chosen to take time off to care for themselves or others.
  • Speak out against stigmatizing behaviours or negative statements about co-workers who have been away from work or who have been impacted by COVID-19. Report any incidents of violence, harassment, or discrimination to your employer or immediate supervisor.
  • Avoid listening to or reading stories or posts in the media about COVID-19 – seek information from credible and reliable sources that can be trusted, such as the WECHU website.

For more information about preventing stigma and discrimination during COVID-19, please visit the Mental Health section of this website.

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Last modified: 
Friday, July 3, 2020 - 4:07pm