The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented changes in workplaces across the country. As lockdowns begin to be lifted and new policies are implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, many people have experienced increased tension in the workplace. This tension may stem from people’s personal understanding, experiences, or opinions on COVID-19 and the approaches being taken to stop it.
Workplace tensions from COVID-19 tend to stem from the two main groups that people interact with at work; these include customers, clients, or patients that employees serve or one’s fellow colleagues. People have varying opinions on how severe COVID-19 may be and how it should be handled. How these opinions are shared and differences in these opinions can lead to tension, or even conflict.
There are three main viewpoints that people have on the topic of COVID-19 and the way that it has been responded to. It is highly likely that you have one of these three viewpoints and that COVID-19 related tensions that you experience are with someone with one of the other viewpoints.
Someone with a pro-intervention viewpoint regards COVID-19 as very dangerous and believes that everyone should do everything possible to stop it. Someone with a pro-intervention viewpoint will tend to be a firm believer that everyone should adhere to all COVID-19 restrictions and policies and will try to encourage people to follow all COVID-19 health directives to the fullest extent possible. A small segment of people with this viewpoint may been seen as intolerant or condescending in their approach to encouraging others to comply with all COVID-19 related policies.
If this isn’t you:
If you do not take this viewpoint, it can be easy to think of people who do as fear-driven and overly assertive. It is important to take into consideration these people’s experiences that you may not be aware of. Perhaps they have a loved one who has a health condition that makes them prone to infection or are themselves at risk. People who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 may also have a background that makes them seem over-protective. While some people with this viewpoint may seem overbearing, most people simply are more concerned than you, often for a reason. It is important to consider that these people may have experiences that you are unaware of and to take their concerns seriously.
If this is you:
If you do take a pro-intervention viewpoint, it is important that you consider that not everyone has the same perspective on the severity of COVID-19 as you do. These people do not think avoiding it is as important as you do, often because they have not had the experiences that you have had. While you may have to enforce guidelines in your workplace, ensure that you are taking a non-confrontational approach and emphasize that your enforcement is based on policies, not your own perspective of the coronavirus. You may also find it helpful to share experiences that have made you take the pandemic more seriously, as people may be more receptive to your viewpoint if they understand why you take the view that you do.
Someone with an anti-intervention viewpoint regards COVID-19 as not being a big deal. Often, people with this viewpoint are not in an at-risk category and have not been affected by COVID-19. People with this viewpoint will point to the WHO data showing the fatality rate for COVID-19 as less than 1% and will often express frustration with COVID-19 restrictions and policies. People in this group may refuse to comply with most or all COVID-19 measures whenever possible. A small segment of this group may be seen as aggressive or confrontational in their refusal to follow guidelines.
If this isn’t you:
If this is not you, if can be easy to think of people with this viewpoint as uncaring or irresponsible. It is important to consider that people with this viewpoint do have the right to their opinion and to make decisions that they believe are best for their own health. It is also important to consider that someone who does not comply with COVID-19 policies may have genuine health or other considerations that make them unable to comply with certain policies. It is unwise to assume that someone is not wearing a mask, for example, because they do not care, as some people do have genuine reasons for not following COVID-19 policies that might not be apparent. While you may have to enforce your company’s policies for someone who is not complying, you will not likely be able to change his/her mind. Be friendly and follow your employer’s guidelines for enforcing your policies.
If this is you:
If this viewpoint describes you, then you are more likely to see the inconsistencies that are often present in many companies’ COVID-19 policies, such as airlines requiring masks to be worn but allow them to be removed to eat, even in close proximity of another person. While these inconsistencies certainly exist, it is necessary to understand that people you interact with typically do not have control over the policies. Not agreeing to follow the policies of your company may be seen negatively by others, and the perception that you are uncaring, justified or not, will be reinforced when you take personal actions that others perceive as affecting more than yourself.
The neutral viewpoint is probably the most common perspective on COVID-19. Someone with a neutral viewpoint does not have a large concern about getting COVID-19 but is willing to follow the policies and measures that are being taken to help slow its spread. Sometimes people with this viewpoint may follow safety measures more because they have to than because they believe they are necessary. They will not, however, in most cases, provide any pushback against the measures. This group might be seen as easier to get along with by many, but others may consider them to be either uncaring or unwilling to stand up for themselves.
If this isn’t you:
If this viewpoint isn’t you, it’s important to realize that people with this mindset are often specifically trying not to make an issue out of COVID-19 and the response to it. If you have tensions with this group, then it is likely that you may play a bigger role in these tensions than the other party. Respecting their views and attempting to avoid creating workplace tensions is typically the best approach to interacting with people who have this viewpoint.
If this is you:
While you may be trying to keep your head down, other people have sometimes very strong emotions about the responses to COVID-19. This may sometimes make it difficult to interact with people with these types of viewpoints. If you are encountering tensions, it may help to realize that people often take a certain viewpoint because of experiences that you may not be aware of. Discussing someone’s motivations for taking a non-neutral approach to COVID-19 responses may help you to better understand these underlying motives and help to reduce tensions.
While tensions about COVID-19 responses are inevitable, better understanding each of the viewpoints of others and your own relative perspective can help to alleviate some of these tensions.