Stigma associated with COVID-19 is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and COVID-19. In today’s pandemic, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with the virus.
This treatment can negatively affect those with the virus, as well as their caregivers, family, friends and communities. People who don’t have the virus but share other characteristics with this group may also suffer from stigma. The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.
So how can we as employers and HR professionals help stop the stigma associated to COVID-19 at the workplace? BrightMatter has given this some good thought over the past year in pandemic, and are here to share some of the most useful ways to stop the stigma at work.
#1 - Understand why COVID-19 is causing stigma
The level of stigma associated with COVID-19 is based on three main factors: 1) it is a disease that’s new and for which there are still many unknowns; 2) we are often afraid of the unknown; and 3) it is easy to associate that fear with ‘others’.
It is understandable that there is confusion, anxiety, and fear among the public. Unfortunately, these factors are also fueling harmful stereotypes.
#2 - Understand the impact of stigma
To understand the impact of stigma associated with COVID-19, we must first look at the repercussions on both the societal and individual level.
On the societal level, stigma is a barrier to eradication of COVID-19 as it can make it harder to slow or stop outbreaks. This is because it stops many people from being tested, quarantining, or seeking medical attention or notifying health authorities.
On the individual level, stigma can be harmful for mental health. People who are stereotyped as a result experience stress, guilt, anxiety and isolation to avoid discrimination.
#3 - Implement policies and practices
It is important to set out clear standards for respectful conduct in the workplace. First, create a mutual respect policy. This policy should demonstrate that gossip and rumours surrounding COVID-19 is not tolerated. Having a mutual respect policy will also reassure employees that the company takes their personal privacy seriously. If you need help creating a mutual respect policy, get in touch! We’d be happy to help.
If an employee does test positive, employers should always use a Confirmed Case of COVID-19 in the Workplace Memo. This memo should inform employees of the confirmed case while providing as few details about the individual as possible. Be conscious of the language you use. See how the Region of Peel uses a workplace memo and the wording they use.
#4 - Provide training and education
It is important to know that employees who have or have had COVID-19 are more at risk of verbal and physical violence’s from co-workers or clients. Ensure you have trained your employees on up to date Workplace Violence, Harassment & Sexual Harassment policies.
Stigma associated with COVID-19 can be reduced by educating employees and providing them with training about the virus. In-class or virtual training can give employees the opportunity to learn about the virus and the actual preventative measures they can follow to protect themselves and others.
Bias can be reduced through specific bias training towards others and sharing facts can help reduce stigma based on misinformation, which has been widespread throughout the pandemic. Consider sending out email to update your team regularly on the situation and share advice from public health officials.
#5 - Words matter
When talking about coronavirus disease, certain words (i.e suspect case, isolation…) may have a negative meaning for people and fuel stigmatizing attitudes. They can perpetuate existing negative stereotypes or assumptions, strengthen false associations between the disease and other factors, create widespread fear, or dehumanize those who have the disease. This can drive people away from getting screened, tested and quarantined.
Focus on using a “people-first” language that respects and empowers people in all communication channels. You should also simplify your language when communicating any facts about COVID-19 as to not communicate any misinformation or confusion. Consider putting up important posters in common areas to serve as visual information reminders.
About BrightMatter HR
BrightMatter HR is a Toronto-based Human Resources Outsourcing (HRO) provider that brings years of experience to delivering results-oriented, flexible HR solutions and employee management services. BrightMatter provides a personalized touch to HR outsourcing while focusing on modernizing your workforce, reducing your costs, and bringing peace of mind to employers and their growing teams.