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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Leading during the COVID Pandemic

How do I address staff and client concerns when I don’t have all the answers?

Behavioral health practices are facing unprecedented challenges. Your staff and clients will understand that you don’t have all the answers, but they will look to you as a model for how to respond in this crisis. You can help support your staff and clients by being honest about what you don’t know and modeling the following behaviors:

Communicate calmly, often, and clearly

  • Express empathy, caring, honesty and openness.
  • Establish frequent and regular times when staff and clients can expect to hear updates from you.
  • Let staff and clients know how you are planning to adjust operations if there is a spike in COVID cases in your community.
  • Take 3 deep breaths before writing challenging emails or discussing difficult topics with staff.
  • Place the work tasks in a larger context; explain why it is important.
  • Clearly define the objective and the deadline.
  • You and your staff should understand what success or task completion looks like; follow-up to ensure tasks are complete.
  • Be open to and create opportunities for feedback from staff and clients.

Establish and maintain clear boundaries between work and rest

  • Establish expected work hours/shifts.
  • Avoid sending emails/calling individuals outside of established hours.
  • Avoid responding to emails outside of the hours when you are working.

Engage in self-care

  • Take time to engage in physical activity and speak with friends/family.
  • Engage in relaxing behaviors like listening to music.
  • Write anxious thoughts down and brainstorm responses or solutions.
  • Eat regularly, choose healthy snacks, and stay hydrated.
  • Get enough sleep—ideally 8 hours, but at least 5.5 hours.

Whenever possible, take the time to engage in active listening and build rapport by summarizing the concerns and feelings your staff and clients express. For example, “It sounds like you are worried about bringing COVID home to your family if someone in our facility tests positive.” Listening is one of the greatest tools you possess in this situation. If a client is advocating for themselves and looking for answers you do not have, recognize their advocacy and strengths. VitalTalk provides practical advice on how to have difficult conversations with clients about COVID-related testing and medical care.

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I’m a source of support for those around me, but who can I turn to for help when I’m feeling overwhelmed?

Even helpers need help, especially with the stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. But who should you turn to? This will depend on who you are and your unique needs. Before you get to a crisis point, brainstorm sources of support and write them down or type them in your phone. Know who you can turn to for peer support, family support, leadership support, counseling and therapy options through employee assistance programs, online support groups, available hotlines, etc. If you are comfortable, reach out to leadership and coworkers for their knowledge on available resources, or consider creating individual support plans as an office-wide reopening activity, since we all need support right now. Here are two resources to get you started:

  • SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters (1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746).

  • COVID Coach is a mobile app designed to improve self-care and overall mental health. The application includes education on coping, tools for self-care, trackers for mental health and personal goals. COVID Coach is available on both Android and iPhone.

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  • This page last reviewed: July 22, 2020