- Leaders who are attentive to employees' emotional needs and unite them around a common purpose could help to reduce COVID-19-induced stress in the workplace, according to the results of a series of studies in China and the U.S. published in the Journal of Applied Psychology Oct. 8.
- Researchers led by the Ohio State University (OSU) associate professor Jasmine Hu conducted three studies. The first measured the anxiety of employees at an information technology company in eastern China during COVID-19's spread. Participants whose supervisors rated higher on "servant leadership" showed less anxiety and more engagement than other employees, according to the results.
- Participants in the U.S. studies were asked to read information about COVID-19 as well as scenarios describing different types of supervisors. Similar to the study of workers in China, participants in the U.S. studies whose supervisors exhibited servant leadership showed less anxiety even after reading about COVID-19's deadliness, according to a statement on the results by OSU.
Employers continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic's multifaceted impact on employee stress. From increased pressure created by caregiving duties and public health precautions to the move to remote work in many sectors, HR industry research has indicated higher levels of stress and anxiety among employees since the pandemic's early stages.
So far, employers have responded by offering increased access to mental health benefits, employee assistance programs and flexible scheduling, according to speakers at a virtual conference in August. Virtual healthcare delivery has been particularly utilized by large employers in the context of mental health. Eighty-eight percent of employers in a recent Business Group on Health survey had virtual service offerings in place for mental health this year and an additional 8% were either adding such services in 2021 or considering them for 2022 or 2023.
The Journal of Applied Psychology study may also emphasize the importance of managers and supervisors in helping workers stay on task amid crisis. The study's researchers pointed to the positive effects of those leaders who practiced "servant leadership," exemplified by those who "prioritize fulfillment of others' needs, attend to employees' emotional suffering, work to empower employees, and emphasize serving the community," per the statement.
Other research has presented similar findings. A recent study by employee experience platform BetterUp found that employees who were direct reports of "highly resilient" managers experienced 52% less burnout and were 78% less likely to leave an organization. Managers can encourage employee resilience in part by creating company cultures in which employees can feel a sense of belonging, according to the Center for Talent Innovation.