Managing difficult conversations around Covid-19 as a leader

As a leader, it’s likely that you will need to have difficult conversations with your employees when dealing with the impacts of Covid-19 to the workplace. As many workplaces are adopting a hybrid working model in 2022, these difficult conversations may relate to:

  • Anxiety around returning to office for those who may be concerned with the risk of catching the virus.
  • Needing to inform close contacts in the workplace if an employee tests positive to Covid-19.
  • Communicating with employees around their return to work after being infected with Covid-19.

It’s essential for managers and leaders to be equipped with the relevant knowledge, and skills to be able to identify and manage difficult conversations. Learning how to effectively manage both your own and your employees’ emotions, as well as inform them in a considerate way, is crucial in handling these conversations with confidence in the workplace.

Many people have differing reactions in regards to Covid-19. When approaching a conversation around Covid-19 with one of your employees, you may be met with a range of negative responses or emotional reactions. These may include being defensive, frustrated, sad, in denial, or angry.  

To handle these responses, it’s important to listen carefully to what they have to say, show empathy, and be supportive and reassuring whilst taking action.

So, how can you handle difficult conversations with your employees?

  1. Prepare. When preparing to have difficult conversations, it’s important to develop a clear understanding of the problem that needs to be resolved.
  • What are the issues that you want to discuss?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What are the emotions that I am feeling about this conversation?
  1. Listen. It’s important to make a conscious effort and listen carefully to what they have to say. Listening allows you to better consider the issue from the employee’s perspective. This can create a space of psychological safety where the employee feels truly valued and respected.
  2. Empathise. It’s important to express empathy and acknowledge the employees’ point of view and their feelings. You can do this by paraphrasing back to them to ensure you have understood what they said. Try not to jump in with your views, even if you disagree with their opinions or perspective.
  3. Take Action. Develop suggestions for the next steps moving forward. Acknowledge any organisational policies or procedures which may relate to your conversation and impact what actions you can take. This step focuses on resolving the situation and discussing the agreed terms of your action points.

Once you have had the conversation, it’s important to reflect and follow up with the employee.

  • Was the conversation successful?
  • Is there something you could have done differently?
  • What was the employee’s response?
  • What solutions were brought up?
  • What was the agreement that was discussed?

Be sure to check in with the employee to see how they are tracking with the actions put in place, and whether they need any further support from you.