Guidance for supporting employees through the COVID-19 crisis

May 08, 2020

The Employee Assistance Program offers guidance for employers to support employees who have fears or concerns about COVID-19 or another serious illness that may be impacting them.

When a situation like the COVID-19 health crisis occurs, people are affected differently. It’s important for employers to offer support to employees who may be struggling in a variety of ways, including increased anxiety or depression. Here are some suggestions from Cigna, the administrator of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered through the Board of Pensions, to help guide you if you’re unsure of what you should and shouldn’t say when talking to employees about COVID-19 or any serious illness that may be affecting their lives.

Do:

  • Respect their privacy. Leave it up to the person to decide how much they want to talk about their feelings and what they want to share.
  • Acknowledge the distressing nature of the situation and how they are reacting to it. Normalize their feelings by saying, “I understand how upsetting this is.”
  • Let your genuine concern show. Ask what they need. Offer practical help as appropriate, such as shifting workloads or work processes, if possible, to accommodate higher absenteeism.
  • Be ready to listen if employees want to talk about what they are feeling. Some common reactions during these situations include reduced concentration, withdrawal, crying, and anger. Be patient with them, and don’t take reactions personally.
  • Remember that you can’t take away others’ feelings, but you can empathize. News of a serious disease can spark fears over health, loved ones, and even our livelihoods that we all share.
  • Keep offering your support, even if it’s declined at first.
  • Recognize your own reactions and take care of yourself.
  • Support the use of professional help if needed. Tell eligible employees* about the EAP and that it’s available to them 24/7 by calling 866-640-2772 or logging on to Cigna’s website (one-time registration required). During this time of high stress, employees who are not eligible for the EAP can call Cigna’s Behavioral Resource line at 866-912-1687 to connect with qualified clinicians who can provide support and guidance.

Don’t:

  • Avoid the subject because you are uncomfortable.
  • Ask intrusive questions.
  • Pretend nothing is happening.
  • Give unsolicited advice.
  • Use clichés such as “I know just how you feel,” or “Everything will turn out for the best.”
  • Underestimate the lasting impact of simply reaching out to ask how employees are doing.

Support for employers

Employers who need assistance dealing with workplace issues, including an employee’s serious illness, interpersonal conflicts, performance issues, and more can take advantage of no-cost management consultation services through the EAP.

Simply call 866-640-2772 and ask to speak with an employee assistance consultant who will help you assess the situation and determine what to do. Employee assistance consultants are licensed, master's degree-level clinicians with backgrounds in theology.

*The EAP is not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.