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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Addressing Staff & Client Fear, Grief, Anxiety, and Loneliness

My employees and clients are afraid to return to the facility. How can I help them feel more comfortable, especially since PPE is still difficult to obtain?

Your staff and clients may be afraid of returning to the facility for several reasons. Perhaps they are worried about being infected and bringing COVID-19 home to an immune-suppressed family member, or they may be concerned about committing to in-person work without a reliable source of child care in place. Over time, staff absenteeism may become a problem, particularly if PPE shortages continue.

Here are a few ideas to help staff and clients feel more comfortable returning to  your facility:

Facility logistics

  • Reassess how many staff members need to be in the facility at one time. Can some employees continue to work remotely if they feel more comfortable doing so? Can some staff do in-person work during times when the office or facility would normally be closed?
  • Encourage as many clients as possible to use telehealth—provided they have access to the necessary technology and do not require in-person care. For clients who need in-person care, consider whether they can still receive a portion of their care via telehealth of whether some of their in-person care can be conducted outside.
  • Ask clients to wait outside or in their cars instead of in a waiting room.
  • Ensure food, water, refreshments, hygiene, and comfort items are readily available for staff so they don't need to leave the facility.

Peer support and training

  • Assist staff to locate resources or organize peer support—staff-to-staff and family-to-family—to provide assistance with tangible needs like childcare, dependent care, or carpooling for employees who no longer feel comfortable using mass transit.
  • Assign experienced staff to mentor and support newer staff and develop just in time onboarding materials to orient staff new to work site, including screening and infection control practices. When staff members are following screening and infection control practices, clients will feel more at ease.

Stress management

  • Establish and adhere to regular breaks, and designate a quiet room for staff to use during breaks. If possible, turn the room into a “stress-free oasis” by incorporating stress-reducing visuals, scents, and sounds.
  • Rotate workers from high-stress (e.g. interacting with patients) to lower-stress (e.g. processing paperwork) functions. Monitor and evenly redistribute workload if needed.
  • Encourage staff to develop a personal stress management plan to address exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, and relaxation—and have leadership model personal stress management practices.


  • Have a plan for what to do if there is a spike in local COVID infections and communicate that plan to staff and clients.
  • If clients require in-person care but do not want to access face-to-face services, ask what would make them feel safe enough to return. It may not be something you can change, but addressing their concerns may only require a simple adjustment—or it might be something you are already doing, such as practicing social distancing in waiting rooms.
  • Establish bi-directional communication and a mechanism for staff to make recommendations to leadership through use of a dedicated email address or a physical suggestion box. Have a plan in place to address the concerns voiced through these mechanisms.
  • Ensure staff know how to access psychological support through available mechanisms such as employee assistance programs and the Disaster Distress Helpline.

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We recently lost colleagues, clients, family members, or friends to COVID, and it’s been difficult for us to keep working in the face of our grief. How can I help my staff cope while also taking care of myself?

The death of a loved one, friend or colleague to COVID-19 is tragic, and grief is a normal response to loss. When faced with grief and the need to maintain work engagement, there are concrete methods that can be helpful in mitigating the impact of grief and creating space to heal. That being said, it takes time to process and heal from loss, so it is important to be patient and recognize emotions and feelings as they arise. Here are ideas to get you started:

  • Write down your thoughts and feelings to become more aware of how your grief is affecting you and your work.  
  • Focus on what you can control, instead of focusing on what you cannot. Make sure to prioritize sleep, hygiene, and nutrition.
  • Find your support. This could be friends, family, colleagues, buddy systems, support groups and behavioral health services.
  • Consult the following resources for more information:

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What strategies can I use to help staff, clients, and their families manage their anxiety and loneliness?

For your staff, your clients, and their loved ones, these are incredibly stressful times: loneliness and anxiety are normal responses. Strategies to mitigate the emotional toll of these responses include compassionate communication, social support, self-care, and healthy coping mechanisms. While communicating, listen, be honest in your responses, and reflect back what others tell you.

Check whether your staff and clients are still connected to their normal sources of social support. Do they have the ability to communicate with loved ones virtually? If appropriate, ask about the well-being of those who are close to your staff members or clients.
Lastly, identify self-care and coping mechanisms that your staff and clients are already using and explore new ones. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer for this. Instead, promote and encourage a variety of techniques that people can try out and continue if it fits their emotional and behavioral health needs. These can include journaling, puzzles, mindfulness apps, volunteer projects, etc.

If you have space in your facility, consider creating a “stress-free oasis.” This oasis would be a room designed and designated for relaxation: dimly lit with cozy chairs, stress-reducing scents like lavender, soothing music or nature sounds, plants, and a virtual sunrise or oceans waves projected along one of the walls.

Visit this CDC link to learn more about managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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My staff and I are worried about our personal finances if we don’t start seeing more patients soon. What can I do to help mitigate these concerns?

With widespread unemployment, furloughs, and reduced client loads, many people are concerned about their finances right now. The first step is to see whether you are eligible for financial assistance through the Provider Relief Fund, small business loans, or other programs, such as the National Council for Behavioral Health’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. Check out the COVID-19 Help Center to learn about unemployment assistance, health care, food and nutrition programs, and small business loans. If you are concerned about losing your home, visit the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s COVID-19 website for steps renters and homeowners can take to avoid eviction or foreclosure.

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  • This page last reviewed: July 22, 2020