Coronavirus Is Fostering a Climate of Fear. We Need to Change the Story.

by Ted Burnham

The coronavirus pandemic is upending workplace culture and creating a climate of fear, confusion and uncertainty for employees. It probably comes as no surprise that those aren’t the best conditions for innovation and creativity, and it certainly doesn’t drive a sense of belonging amongst your employees.

No matter what industry you’re in or how big your workforce is, it’s a safe bet your employees are currently dealing with some combination of surging front-line demands; furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs; or the struggles of adapting to remote work. And survey after survey is revealing how employees feel about this change in work and workplace culture.

Spoiler alert: It’s not good.

  • More than half of U.S. adults expect to get coronavirus this year – and believe their office environment will be to blame. (Bospar, March 2)
  • 70 percent of employees are afraid to go into work. More than 45 percent say the coronavirus has negatively impacted their productivity. (IEEE Spectrum, March 6)
  • 43 percent of U.S. employees worry the coronavirus will have negative long-term impacts on their organization, and 42 percent say the coronavirus has raised concerns about job security. (Zenefits, March 11)
  • 72 percent of U.S. employees expect the virus to disrupt their work – up from 45 percent just two weeks earlier. (Forrester, March 25)
  • The number of people who believe the coronavirus is a “high threat” to them personally (29 percent) and to the U.S. (71 percent) doubled from early March to early April. (USA Today / Ipsos, April 10)

In other words, your employees are already telling themselves a scary, discouraging, demotivating story about how this pandemic is going. And when you add the loneliness of “social distancing” and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression… well, it’s no wonder so many people are feeling disconnected, afraid for their jobs and less productive.

As a leader, you need to help your employees tell a new story – a story that supports them in feeling connected, safe, resilient and able to rise to whatever challenges your organization is facing.

Fortunately, that story already exists! In our own work and lives, each of us has already experienced moments of connection, of safety, of resilience and triumph – and we’re living new moments like this every day. Reconnecting to those experiences is all it takes to reset our fear circuits and start telling a new, more hopeful story. One with a happy ending.

But powerful workplace storytelling doesn’t just happen on its own. That’s why we’re building the Avanoo StoryApp – a mobile app that makes it easy for employees to share the kinds of stories that will carry your organization forward. It’s based on everything we’ve learned in the last seven years helping organizations like Google and Kaiser Permanente build and sustain great cultures through storytelling, and it’s free through the end of May.

Check out our eBook Using Stories to Support Connection & Belonging During the COVID-19 Crisis to discover how you can sustain your organization’s culture through the challenges ahead.

StoryApp is designed to be the easiest and most effective way to change the story about how the future of this pandemic will go. But however you do it, the key is to recognize the power of the stories your team is already carrying within themselves. Because when we’re living and working in a climate of fear, it’s more important than ever to create and sustain a work culture that connects, reassures and supports employees to perform at their highest levels.

Couldn’t we use some good news for a change?

—Ted Burnham, Avanoo Lead Content Marketer

About Ted

Ted Burnham loves the power of words – to tell stories, explain big ideas, and help people connect. He is a writer, editor, multimedia producer, storyteller, and “professional combobulator”. Ted’s work has appeared on NPR, Popular Science, and elsewhere.

About Avanoo

Avanoo brings together the world’s oldest artform – storytelling – and the world’s newest technologies – AI, machine learning – to support teams in experiencing more connection, belonging, and performance. Our app makes it easy for employees to share and listen to each other’s stories wherever they are, and our insights dashboard makes it easy for leaders to understand where and how stories create lasting impact on their teams. Learn more:
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