The Stigma Surrounding COVID-19

As stated by the CDC, public health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic, are stressful times for everyone. Unfortunately, fear and anxiety about this disease have led to social stigma despite best efforts from the CDC and WHO. People or groups who may be experiencing stigma include:

  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19, have recovered from being sick with COVID-19, or were released from COVID-19 quarantine.
  • Those who report they are at risk for COVID-19, may have been exposed, or are experiencing symptoms.
  • Emergency responders or healthcare providers.
  • Other frontline workers, such as grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, or farm and food processing plant workers.
  • People who have disabilities or developmental or behavioral disorderswho may have difficulty following recommendations.
  • People who have underlying health conditions that cause a cough.

What Can Employers Do?

With businesses reopening and employees returning to the workplace, this stigma can cause a variety of issues. Ideally, employees would proactively report that they, or someone in their immediate environment, may have been exposed or is experiencing early symptoms. Fear or uneasiness around reporting their risk could make preventing future outbreaks nearly impossible.

To reduce stigma and help employees feel more comfortable about the situation, leaders should:

  • Correct any negative language they hear that can cause stigma.
  • Share accurate information about the virus and how it spreads.
  • Speak out against negative behaviors and statements, including those on social media.
  • Communicate quickly and concisely about the risk level, or lack of risk, from contact with certain products, people, and places.
  • Maintain the privacy and confidentiality of those seeking healthcare and those who may be part of any contact investigation.
  • Provide virtual resources for mental healthor other social support services so anyone who may need it has access.
  • Thanking healthcare workers, responders, and others working on the front lines.

Visit the CDC to learn more ways to help reduce the stigma surrounding COVID-19.

Ensuring Employees Report Their Risk

In addition to helping reduce stigma surround COVID-19 in the workplace, there is another method that could help ensure employees feel comfortable reporting COVID-19 exposure and/or symptoms. It is called “random rotation.”

Harvard Business Review explains that the process begins with frequent employee surveys about their possible COVID-19 exposure and symptoms. Based on survey responses, around 5-10% of employees are systematically rotated out of the workplace for a week. Employees rotated out include all employees reporting COVID-19 exposure and/or symptoms, as well as a randomly selected group of employees who do not. At the end of the week, returning employees are tested for symptoms and any symptomatic or COVID-19-positive employees receive appropriate medical care.

Random rotation works because it ensures that workers who report exposure maintain plausible deniability. An employee being sent home can claim that his or her selection truly was random. This method not only allows employees to feel safe reporting their exposure and symptoms, but it also keeps the office less crowded. Employees are better able to social distance in the workplace, and employees who are still working from home won’t feel as isolated.

For more information, visit Harvard Business Review!

 

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