As distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widespread, your organization may be getting ready to reopen the workplace. In addition to implementing safety protocols, be sure to address the fears employees may be feeling about going back to the office.
Q: My organization is beginning to plan for how we bring employees back into the office. Much of our discussion focuses on practical issues like sanitation and safety, but I think we should be spending more time on the people issues. Do you have some suggestions for how we can help our staff feel comfortable about returning to the workplace?
A: In addition to planning for the safety of your staff, it’s important to acknowledge that many people understandably have some level of fear about returning to a shared physical space to work. While most people are eager to return to some semblance of normalcy, employers will need to help their employees feel secure about coming back to the office.
Here are three ways you can do that:
Overcommunicate in advance. For nearly a year, people have been bombarded by bad news about the pandemic. As you prepare the office for employees’ return, share with staff specific information about how you are making the workplace safe. Reach out early and often. Remember that in the absence of information, people assume the worst, so share what you know. If you don’t have all the answers, acknowledge this and explain how you are getting those questions answered.
It’s also a great idea to share how you as a leader are feeling. It can be comforting to your staff to hear that you feel stressed and have fears of your own. Reach out in multiple ways, and if you can, talk to people personally. A phone call from the CEO or another leader goes a long way toward making people feel safe.
As you prepare the office for employees’ return, share with staff specific information about how you are making the workplace safe. Reach out early and often.
Listen to employee concerns. Managers should gauge how the people who report to them are feeling and invite them to share any specific concerns about returning to the office. Collect these concerns in one place so that the leadership team can consider how to address as many as possible. Some employees may be concerned about difficult family situations, for example, while others may have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. How will you handle these issues?
Fight fear with information and inspiration. This is where an empathetic leader can make a big difference. Let your team know how you are dealing with your own fears. Share stories about positive things that are happening to you and others during this crisis. Your employees need thoughtful and inspirational leadership that allows them to see beyond their fears.