As a vast majority of states have transitioned toward some level of economic reopening, employers are creating ways for employees to return back to work safely. While some employees are eager to return to the office, many employees fear that the economy is claiming priority above employees’ well being and health in order to return to normal operations.
As businesses resume operations, employers understand that workforce reentry certainly includes both operational and logistical planning to ensure employee safety in the workplace. However, it is equally important that employers plan not only to maintain the safety of employees’ physical health in the workplace, but that employers are prepared to respond to employees’ psychological and emotional health as well. It should come as no surprise that employees returning back to work will likely face anxiety regarding their return to the workplace. It is likely your employees’ anxiety stems from a lack of information and feeling of unpreparedness prior to returning to work. If employers fail to address these sources of anxiety and do not plan to assist their employees in managing their mental health, it is unlikely that a business will return to its pre-Covid engagement and productivity levels.
Addressing and reducing reasonable anxieties when returning to work in the wake of Covid is now an absolute essential task for businesses. Below we discuss strategies to help manage and reduce employee anxieties.
Share Your Covid-19 Response Strategy Ahead of Time. If management fails to advise its employees of its procedures to protect against Covid prior to the return of employees to the workplace, the lack of information can cause employees to panic. As a result, the level of your employees’ morale and enthusiasm is bound to decline. This means that communication is the first cornerstone to an employer’s successful transition back to business.
First, employers must develop and communicate their strategy to protect against Covid before employees are expected to return back to the office or workplace. The more information and transparency you can provide to your employees, the better you can win your team’s trust and buy-in. What do employees seek information about before returning to work? First, employees want clarification as to how their employers are going to modify or adapt the workplace to accommodate for social distancing. What will their day-to-day work look like? Will workspaces be spread apart to keep employees an appropriate distance from each other? How will employees’ interactions with colleagues or customers be modified? What kinds of personal protective equipment will employees need on a daily basis and what will be provided to employees? What new cleaning or disinfection responsibilities will employees have for their individual workspaces and communal areas? How will employers track employees’ interactions with other employees should the employer need to trace employee interactions in the event an employee contracts Covid. What protocol is in place to report issues or concerns regarding the company’s new health and safety policies?
Second, communicate how your company will use screening protocol and temperature checks to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. Third, explain why the employees are returning back to the office and why it’s the right choice for the company as a whole as well as the employees’ teams in general. Third, implement screening procedures before reopening. While it is true that Covid can be spread from asymptomatic individuals, employers can still take major steps to protect their employees collectively by preventing as many symptom-positive individuals and recent exposures from entering the workplace. Before reopening, employers should send a questionnaire to their employees to determine the following:
· Who is currently ill with Covid, or experiencing symptoms associated with Covid?
· Who has been exposed to or has cared for another ill with Covid, or experiencing symptoms associated with Covid in the last 14 days?
· Who has been advised by a medical professional to remain at home indefinitely due to a health condition?
· Who is currently the only source of childcare for a minor?
These questions will help employers determine the scale of their re-opening and will help to identify which employees will require additional help transitioning back to the workplace.
Understand That Everyone Reacts Differently To The Situation. It is important for employers to understand that throughout quarantine while many of your employees have been trying their best to work remotely at home, they have also had to care for their families. In addition, they may have lost finances, or they may have even lost loved ones due to Covid. It is normal that your employees are reacting differently to this new normal. Employers may certainly have employees who were more than happy to work remotely from home. It is also likely that many of your employees are very sociable people who now realize their lives have drastically changed and working from home has drastically impacted their lives.
Employers must understand that once everyone is back in the workplace, you may have a team composed of both of those extremes. Obviously, they are going to react to the stress of returning back to the workplace differently. As long as employers are mindful that their employees can react to this new normal differently, the stress and anxiety of returning back to work can be overcome by adjusting how employers can provide support to their employees.
Provide a Clear Vision That Takes Into Account Dealing With The Public. While it is of the utmost importance for employers to maintain a safe work environment amongst its employees, employers must also provide clear instructions for your employees to interact with customers, visitors and the public. Employees may feel comfortable interacting with other employees in the workplace, it may be potential outsiders that make them nervous.
If you run a business where there’s frequent interaction with customers or the public, i.e., a retail, healthcare, or hospitality business, or have frequent outsiders inside the workplace, it is just as important for employers to develop and communicate procedures to prevent your employees from contracting Covid from an outsider. As part of these procedures, employers should provide clear instructions to employees regarding how to handle interactions with visitors, customers or the public. This may include installing sneeze guards or partitions, implementing temperature checks to all outsiders coming into the workplace, or another solution that would work best for your business. It is important for employees be informed of these policies and procedures prior to returning to the workplace to reduce an employee’s potential anxiety regarding returning to their role which may include interactions with customers, visitors or the public.
Takeaways. Resuming operations and returning to the workplace in the aftermath of this unexpected pandemic is probably one of the greatest challenges employers will face. Trying to act as if nothing has changed is a detrimental mistake an employer can make and will surely lead to a decline in productivity and employee morale. Employers that hope to reopen their workplaces in a manner that will create a positive and safe workplace moving forward must remember the following:
· Your employees require advance notice of all policies and procedures that are to be implemented in the workplace in order to reduce their anxiety regarding their return back to work;
· You must have support systems in place to respond to your employee’s mental health as they return back to the workplace; and
· Your approach to reopening should address every role and aspect of your business, whether it is directly or indirectly affected by Covid.