Thursday | 16 April | 2020
By Anja van den Berg
In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national state of disaster and ordered a country-wide lockdown. Some businesses granted their talent pool the option of working from home well before the lockdown, while others kept on working in-office.
This means that your employees may have been exposed to the virus before departing from their desks. Those who have been infected usually start showing symptoms around five days after contact. What should a manager do if an employee contacts him with the shocking news of a positive Covid-19 test?
Alisa Cohn is an executive coach who specialises in work with Fortune 500 companies. She advises managers to do the following:
- Express sympathy
When your employee brings you the news, express sympathy. Even if his symptoms are mild, he may be anxious about what could happen or whether he may have spread the virus to his family or coworkers.
- Act swiftly
You will have to ask the employee which coworkers he had been in close contact with during the preceding two weeks. If your team is operational as an essential service, it is especially important to act quickly and minimise the risk of the disease spreading.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines close contact as “a person that has been within six feet of the infected employee for a prolonged period of time”.
The manager should alert those who have been in close contact with the employee as soon as possible and direct them to follow the NICD’s guidelines of self-isolation. The supervisor should also advise them to contact their physicians for advice on how to proceed with screening and testing. Public sector testing is free of charge.
Be discreet and do not reveal the employee’s identity without his permission. Always respect the confidentiality of both the positive-tested employee and anyone in the close-contact group.
- Get to the core of the message quickly
Chon says that managers can be both transparent and discreet at the same time and recommends the following approach to informing the close-contact group:
”Someone in our workplace has tested positive for Covid-19, and he has identified you as a close contact according to the CDC definition. We are here to support you. If you are operating within the realms of an essential service, please prepare to leave your workplace as quickly as you can. Once you get home – or if you are already working from there – you need to self-isolate, monitor yourself, and talk to your doctor. How can I support you in doing all this?”
Leaders must reassure their employees and keep up their spirits. An employee who reports a positive Covid-19 test requires a sensitive and rapid response. Cohn says that senior managers who genuinely take an interest in the health of their employees during this time will separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of leadership.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/03/your-employee-tested-positive-for-covid-19-what-do-you-do
* All information was correct at the time of publication.