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Should You Confront Coworkers Who Violate Social Distancing Guidelines?

Published: Monday 15th June 2020

On May 11, the UK Government published a roadmap for coming out of lockdown, with various guidelines in place, like wearing masks and keeping at least 2 feet distance from others. These guidelines are enforced to keep the citizens safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this, many offices around the country have started to open up. And although going back to work may seem challenging to many of us, we have to follow the guidelines. But once you’re back at work, what if a coworker does not conform with the company’s and government’s social distancing guidelines in place? Commenting on a coworker’s behaviour can be complicated and lead to conflict at work. So, should you or shouldn’t you confront coworkers who violate social distancing guidelines?

Following these simple tips can help you choose your approach on this issue:

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Before You Confront Coworkers Understand The Psychology

Before jumping into a conversation about social distancing, or confront coworkers, it’s crucial to understand the psychology behind why the may refuse to participate. Firtsly, in general people aren’t as responsive to threats they cannot see, like a virus. Therefore some may think the situation isn’t that serious. Secondly, some people may be ignoring social distancing guidelines, as a coping mechanism to deal with their anxiety about the pandemic. In fact, a very common psychological reaction to anxiety is fight or flight.

So in this particular case, flight can look like ignoring the situation and what comes with it.  As a result some colleagues may be in denial about its seriousness or joking about it. Consequently, even if well-meaning people confront coworkers who have this type of approach, they’re creating a paradox. They’re only raising the stress and anxiety of those refusing to comply, digging their feet in further. Therefore, in this instance a very gentle and subtle approach would be more suitable.

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Shame And Blame Won’t Work

When it comes to changing your coworker’s mind or behaviour, confrontation in the workplace won’t work. Remember that during these uncertain, unprecedented times everyone is stressed out and fearful for their health. That’s why, we ought to be kind and use open, honest and respectful communications to tackle any issues.

Follow The Guidelines Yourself Before You Confront Coworkers

Studies show that one of the best ways to get other people to adopt new habits is to model them yourself. If you find your coworkers violating the social distancing guidelines, speak up politely and keep following the guidelines. yourself. That way you can set a good example for them to follow once they rethink things through.

People Tend To Resist Change 

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There are several factors when it comes to the decision to ignore social distancing warnings. A cause may be the fact that people tend to resist change. The most common reasons are the loss of control, excess uncertainty and that everything seems different. In terms of loss of control, change interferes with autonomy and might make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.

In some other cases, change may feel like walking off a cliff blindfolded, hence people may reject it. People can overcome inertia with a sense of safety and inspiring vision. Employers should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and plans in place.

Finally if change is meant to bring something completely different, then remember that people are creatures of habit. So are your colleagues! Too many differences can be distracting or confusing. Before you confront coworkers try first to keep things familiar wherever possible. Remain focused on the important things bu using honest communication and remaining respectful.

For more tips and advice on working safely and how to deal with conflict at work, check out our resources on the Zoek InfoHub.

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