As people begin to filter back in to the workplace, anticipate a mix of emotions.  Whether positive or negative, workers will have feelings, and lots of them.  Be it how they feel about returning to a semblance of normalcy to once again engaging face-to-face with colleagues to a resurgence of the stresses of commuting, to the continued risk of infection, the excitement and anxiety may prove for a bumpy ride and hinder overall productivity.  In the face of this transition, it will be extremely important to manage expectations, both in what your organization expects in regards to returning to work as well as how your organization will support the varying needs and concerns of those returning.  

The workforce as a whole has been put through the ringer, and employees will be returning to work in a variety of states, bringing their anxiety, worries, anger, disappointments, and depression along with them. According to a PwC US Employee Pulse survey conducted in early May, 51% of respondents cited fear of getting sick as the main detractor for them in returning to work.  Among other reasons listed were an unwillingness to use public transportation, the responsibilities of being a parent or caregiver, and the need to care for sick family members.  Employees want safety and wellness to be a top priority.  These concerns will need to be a main player in any return-to-work plans.

Deciding on and proactively communicating precisely what safety and hygiene protocols are in place will be paramount in protecting your people, engendering a culture of trust, and encouraging an environment of productivity.  There are a number of safety measures that can be taken that focus on the health and safety of employees and the workplace.  A few ideas include:

  • Offer work-from-home options for those who can successfully perform duties remotely
  • Stagger shifts and breaks for those who will be working onsite
  • Make disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning supplies available throughout the office
  • Encourage employees to wear masks, especially while in common areas
  • Ensure rigorous cleaning and disinfection of common areas at least once daily
  • Reconfigure the office layout to create physical distance between workers
  • Provide mandatory testing/health checks prior to returning to work
  • Decide on different leave options for those who may need to miss work due to COVID.

Supervisors will have to pay significantly more attention than before, encouraging employees to share their concerns over health and safety, job loss, personal family situations, etc.  While you won’t be able to assuage these fears altogether, you can and should listen to what your employees are saying and directly address their concerns:

Respond quickly with honest answers to questions and be open about organizational decisions.

Encourage employees to be conscious and understanding of their coworkers who may be dealing with dependent care disruptions, family illness, loss of loved ones, and financial uncertainty. 

Demonstrate confidence in what the organization is actively doing to lower the risks for everyone, and continue open dialogue as things continue to change and progress. 

COVID has presented numerous challenges and deeply affected people in terms of financial and personal security as well as physical and mental health.  However, it has also awoken and enhanced the capacity for adaptation, resilience, and agility.  Demonstrating your commitment to employee wellness and connecting with employees in their stress will create an environment of trust and transparency.  This will not only set up your employees for success but also create opportunities to reinvigorate performance company-wide. 

Posted by: Nicolette Salazar