The dramatic and increasing COVID-19 pandemic’s infections and deaths across the world are causing unprecedented levels of anxiety amongst people in most nations. This is particularly true within businesses and other organisations as people get back to work when their respective economies open up following local lockdown strategies. Leaving the relative safety of home and working with colleagues and relating to customers for eight hours per day with no idea of whom they have been in contact is daunting to say the least. One’s health, and indeed one’s life, is on the line.

On top of the obvious physical health issues mentioned above, the perceived stigma attached to having the disease affects mental health negatively. Many people feel embarrassment and shame, particularly with some in society shunning the affected and even naming them. All of these factors work together to heighten fear.

Employees in South Africa are not immune to this COVID-19-related anxiety – this was revealed by a series of COVID-19 Organisation Wellbeing Surveys, based on the responses of 12 707 South African employees, conducted by Free To Grow. The results are as follows:

Alinda Nortje, Founder and Chairperson of Free To Grow, notes: “With 90% of employees experiencing anxiety, the need for care and support is clear” and then further asks:  “Do you know how your people are feeling? And how you, as leaders, can support them in adapting to the new ways of work?”

Employees clearly need assurances from those in leadership at this time – assurances that relate to:

  1. Safety – is the company doing as much as possible to protect me and my family while I perform my duties?
  2. Information – is the company providing relevant and understandable bits of disease-related information that I can apply in practical ways, at work and at home?
  3. Empathy – are my leaders able to identify with my specific situation and relate to my difficulties that I encounter daily (transport, accommodation, social context)?
  4. Care – are those in leadership providing discretionary and practical support for needs that we might have?
  5. Security – assurances that relate to the way ahead and any innovative approaches that the company is implementing to maintain and indeed increase business opportunities, thus retaining staff where possible.

Problems relating to mental and emotional health have become a growing concern worldwide as the COVID-19 pandemic’s pervasive influence negatively impacts everything we have known about life and living. With appropriate assurances and support structures put decisively in place by those in management, however, employees can not only learn how to survive the stress that the disease induces, but also gain the skills to assist others in the process.

Free To Grow offers a COVID-19 Wellness Survey for organisations. Free To Grow has also developed a COVID-19 communications strategy for organisations to apply for both remote workers and also for frontline employees (

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