“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Coronavirus-related questions have likely made their way into your office by now. Apropos, the New York Times published an article just last Friday entitled, “Workplace vs. Coronavirus: No One Has a Playbook for This.” The piece reports on large tech organizations on the west coast and how they are handling employee anxiety over the spread of the virus as well as employees in their ranks who have gotten sick from it. The article goes on to refer to workplace challenges caused by the virus as, “a new front in the battle.”
I have a question for the authors of this article — Haven’t we already been fighting this battle on several fronts? Or at minimum, a nearly identical battle that year-over-year takes a much greater toll on human health?
The 2019/2020 flu season is estimated to have caused more than 34,000,000 flu illnesses, over 350,000 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 deaths in the last five months alone. But we’re not reading about the flu or hearing about the flu threat round-the-clock like we are COVID-19, a disease that as of yesterday had a total U.S. caseload of 423 infected and a death toll of 19. Why not? The coronavirus numbers are not even comparable to the damage wrecked every year by the flu.
There are several reasons we don't pay the flu the same kind of attention. One of the main reasons is because COVID-19 is a novel virus — a new virus, one that has not been previously identified. As people tend towards fear in the face of what they don’t understand and can’t necessarily control, the coronavirus has captured the darkest corners of our imaginations. When something plays on not only our emotions but our perception and fear of risk as well, it’s hard to ignore. This unfamiliar virus is making people sick and killing some vulnerable folks. in tandem with unanswered questions about how it’s spread, how to prevent it, how to treat it and so forth, the whole deal is certainly unnerving.
But compounding this non-stop fear isn't useful in any way. It clouds our judgement, increases the risk of employee anxiety, and is not productive.
Think about what we know so far:
- COVID-19 is mild in most folks who get it.
- Children are not terribly affected by it.
- The people at the greatest risk are already the most vulnerable.
- The entire world’s medical and public health community are cooperating and responding to it.
Instead of being gripped by the fear of something we know little about and perpetuating it, we should shift the focus towards respect for ourselves and others. We should be following CDC-recommended protocols on hand-washing and making sure our employees STAY HOME if they’re sick (which we should be doing no matter what the viral or bacterial infection). Anyone who suspects they have the virus, the CDC recommends they stay home for all reasons save medical care. The protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace ought to sound familiar: avoid contact with sick folk; avoid touching your face; cover your cough or sneeze; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects or surfaces… WASH YOUR HANDS!
Fear is the mind-killer. We cannot think straight nor strategize when we are afraid. Bear that in mind. Do some research. I challenge you to evaluate the information about the coronavirus and make the best decision for your organization based on the facts, not the fear.