3 Ways to Help Employees Feel Comfortable Returning to the Office

June 3, 2021 | Rally Health

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Working from home used to be a luxury — a perk offered by in-demand employers to attract top talent. Before the coronavirus outbreak, only one in five Americans worked remotely, but that figure jumped to 71% during the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center.

And while people are ready for COVID-19 to fade into history, they’re not quite as prepared to return to old ways of working. Pew found that more than half (54%) of employed adults say they want to continue working from home after the coronavirus outbreak ends. And a January 2021 survey by job site LiveCareer showed that 29% of working professionals would quit their jobs if they couldn’t continue working remotely.

This demonstrates how important it is for leaders to approach a return to the office with caution and care. In this environment, how employers manage and communicate about this transition could have a major impact on employee morale and retention.

The key to success is showing employees that their needs are top of mind — even if the company can’t give them exactly what they want. Taking three simple steps can help employers build buy-in from their teams and make the return to the office a seamless transition for all.

1. Start an ongoing conversation

People have strong opinions about how companies should respond to the risks presented by COVID-19 — and how well their employers have done so far. According to research conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, fewer than one in five employees give their employers excellent marks for supporting worker well-being during the pandemic. And as a result, more than one in four employees are looking to change employers in 2021.

To avoid employee backlash that could cause a mass exodus of talent, leaders should create space for team members to discuss their needs and provide feedback to proposed plans before return-to-work policies are put in place. While all employees won’t agree on the best way to move forward, town hall meetings, Slack conversations and other public forums can provide perspective on what people want — and how policies are working once they’re rolled out. Designating an HR contact people can speak to privately also helps leaders address employee concerns before they fester into resentment that has the potential to spread.

2. Make safety a priority

Even as vaccination rates rise, employers have a lot to consider to safely return workers to the office. The CDC recommends that businesses weigh a variety of factors, including their ability to stagger employee shifts, policies regarding sick leave for staff, and the portion of their workforce at increased risk for severe illness as they create a customized plan that reduces COVID-19 exposure risk.

Once leaders have decided how they want to implement safety measures in the workplace, they need to communicate — clearly and frequently — what’s expected of employees. It’s also important to decide how policies will be enforced and encouraged. Unequal enforcement has the potential to torpedo team dynamics, and a total lack of enforcement can harm the company’s credibility with its employees. However, leaders also need to give people ample time and space to adjust to new rules.

Offering flexible work arrangements will be key to helping employees feel safe and comfortable during the transition back to in-person work. A hybrid work model, where people split their time between working from home and in the office, can help reduce anxiety — and crowding — as people get comfortable with their new routine. Taking a more personalized approach to when and how employees are allowed to work can also support parents as they decide whether to send their children back to in-person school.

3. Promote personal health

Any big life change is stressful. And after spending so much time in isolation, even returning to pre-pandemic routines can be a major adjustment. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Stress in America survey, nearly half of all Americans feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. Those who were vaccinated were just as likely as those were not vaccinated to feel this way.

Allowing employees to ease back into the daily grind two or three days a week before returning full time can help reduce some of the anxiety that comes with this transition. Companies can also help their employees cope with the stress of returning to the office by making sure they understand how to use the health and wellness benefits available to them. For instance, connecting team members with employee assistance programs can give them the resources they need to care for their mental health or manage underlying stressors — such as securing child care or staying on top of their finances — in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Other wellness programs can help employees rein in some of the coping mechanisms they may have adopted during the pandemic. For example, the Real Appeal digital weight loss program offers tools and techniques for shedding the quarantine 15, and the Quit For Life program empowers employees to stop smoking.

These benefits, paired with a clearly communicated commitment to employee well-being, can go a long way to helping people feel good about returning to the office. And supporting employees in this difficult time can build loyalty and trust that will deliver dividends for years to come.


Rally Health

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