The COVID-19 pandemic feels like an ongoing battle. Fear and anxiety increase as normal activities, like grocery shopping, now require people to suit up in protective gear, such as masks and gloves. 62% of Americans report feeling anxious about the possibility of family and loved ones getting sick. So, with businesses reopening, how do you welcome employees back and reduce their anxiety as they return to work?
1. Acknowledge and Validate: “One of the first things employers can do is validate that this is a difficult time, and it makes sense that their employees feel nervous, anxious, afraid or trepidation,” said Michelle Paul. “That can go a long way in creating goodwill and trust. Without the foundation of trust and a working alliance between employer and employee, the tasks required to get back to work are not going to be as effective.” Employees need to know that they are seen and heard especially during this difficult time. Simply address what has happened recently, either through a town hall virtual meeting or heart-felt email. People need to feel connected right now and it is ok to show a little heart.
2. Provide Tools for Mental Health: Focusing on the health, both physical and mental of your employees is vital during this time. Twitter for example is allowing their employees to stay at home indefinitely during the pandemic. While this is not realistic for every company, other business address mental health with resources. “Oil major BP has made Headspace, a guided meditation and mindfulness app, available to all employees globally, while Starbucks in April started providing free therapy sessions for staff and their family members.” Focusing on employees’ mental health helps with the workforces’ mental health. It also impacts the bottom line, potentially reduces lost hours due to employee illness and enhances worker performance. “The new model for all employers should incorporate proactivity when it comes to mental health,” says Maryam Meddin, CEO of The Soke, a private clinic integrating mental health care, wellbeing, support and performance coaching. Offer mental health resources to your employees, whether it is counseling sessions, an email with a list of mental health resources available to employees or a subscription to a meditation app, give employees practical tools to use during this time.
3. Keep Employees Updated: Research from Harvard Business Review, “shows that employees who regularly receive updates from their companies are more likely to have positive views of their employers. They are more likely to be proud to work for their companies (by 55%) and to look forward to going back to work (by 43%).” Keeping an active dialogue between employees and employers may also make it easier to discuss more challenging conversations. A weekly newsletter, leader statement or virtual town hall with employees to stay updated with your company’s changes and responses during this time, may help employees stay on the same page and feel more certain during this time of uncertainty.
4 Share New Policies: The CDC listed requirements for stores and businesses to remain open. Let your employees know how you are implementing these health recommendations. Take the time to train employees, managers and leaders on how to implement these new procedures. There is a lot of gray area at the moment but taking the time to properly train staff builds confidence in your employees by giving them the experience to handle these new challenges.
5. Be Flexible: Offer the ability to work from home when needed. If that’s not realistic for your business, consider having employees come back to the office slowly. Remind employees of paid days off or vacation days, encouraging them to use these days as needed for their mental health during the transition back. It’s a process to come back to work and being flexible as people ease back into working at the office again may help.
It may take time for nerves to settle but following these tips sets you and your employees up for success as you all transition back to work.