Ask the Expert: How Can We Avoid Interpersonal Problems in the Office After Covid?

By Daniel Young | October 22, 2021 | 4 min read
COVID angry at work 1

The pandemic might still be ongoing, but things are starting to get back to normal: Lockdown is over, people are starting to come back to work and kids are going back to school. It’s exactly what a lot of people have been looking forward to, so why is everyone in a terrible mood?

In the last few months, people have been showing their frustration with COVID. There have been arguments over masking, fights over vaccinations, and other related political arguments. As a manager you might be a bit concerned about these tensions and anxieties boiling over at work when employees return.

Is COVID making people angry? And if so, how can you manage interpersonal problems at work?

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Yes, COVID is making people cranky

If your employees’ tempers are short right now, you can take some comfort in the fact that it’s not just your workplace. Nationwide, behavior is worse, due to the pandemic. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the school system, where disruptive behavior is up, according to a recent article. Kids are struggling to readjust to their school schedules; they have less downtime, more interaction with peers, and less flexibility than they had when they were learning at home last year. For kids who’ve lost someone to the pandemic, or who are struggling with other stressors, this makes behavior issues worse.

The same is true of your employees, although instead of getting into a playground fight, this may manifest in other ways: like snappishness, depression, passive aggression, resentment, or workplace feuds.

Writing for Stanford Medicine, Dr. Hans Steiner discusses the anger that has arisen during the pandemic as being, in many cases, “maladaptive anger”:

“Summarizing a large body of research and clinical practice, maladaptive anger and aggression has the following characteristics: 1. It arises without any trigger, seemingly out of the blue; 2. It is disproportionate to its trigger in its frequency, intensity, duration and strength; 3. It does not subside after the offending person has apologized; 4. It occurs in a social context which does not sanction anger and aggression.”

Maladaptive behaviors tend to show up in individuals after major life events or traumas, like a divorce, illness, or the death of a close family member. The pandemic means we’ve all gone through trauma and stress collectively, and, as Steiner points out, many of us have spent months in isolation, which means the social interactions that usually let us get rid of anger – like talking to friends in person or blowing off steam at a social event — haven’t been available.

That can be a problem when people come back to the workplace for the first time in months. People may seem to snap for no reason, bitter fights over political issues like masking and vaccines may erupt, and some employees might just be on edge.

Read more: 7 Best Practices When You’re Preparing for An Active Shooter

What can you do to minimize tensions in the workplace?

  1. Be patient: The first thing you can do as a manager or business owner is simply to be patient with your employees. The transition from remote work to being back in the office is likely to be difficult for many workers; not only are they once again changing their daily routine drastically, but many of your workers are coming off a stressful year and a half and some may have anxiety about being in public regularly again.
  2. Address the elephant in the room: Don’t ignore the tensions at work. Address your team’s stress and uncertainty before problems arise. Let them know you’re aware they’re anxious and that you’re available to talk with anyone who has concerns.
  3. Have a clear COVID policy in place: Are you a masking workplace? Do employees need to be vaccinated? What happens if an employee refuses to comply with your new regulations? What exactly will the penalties be? Before you welcome anyone back to work, make sure your policies are clear and developed and above all be consistent.
  4. Communication is key: When it comes to COVID policies and rules, it’s not possible to over communicate with your team and site visitors. Make sure your policies and rules are posted and that all employees have read them. Be sure that you explain the source of your information and the reasoning behind the policies.
  5. Remember, you’re the boss: Some people will not comply; but remember, as a business, you have the right to tell people to comply on your site. Once again, be clear about the consequences if they don’t, and be ready to follow through.

Learn more: 7 things to know about scenario-based assessments

Be prepared, not paranoid

In the security industry, we often talk about the pendulum of preparedness: people’s mindsets tend to swing between complacency and paranoia. You want your organization to be in the middle — recognizing the threats and the risks of COVID, but being prepared without being paranoid.

An interesting fact is that both complacency and paranoia are different reactions to fear, as is preparedness. So be willing to accept your own fear about the risks associated with the pandemic, and prepare for the worst-case scenario while still taking appropriate risks, like bringing workers back to the office. That way you can set policies that will set your workers’ mind at ease.

Need help developing COVID-related policies? Schedule your personalized demo today.

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