How to Help Your Employees Manage Back-to-Work Anxiety
Businesses that closed for the past couple months are starting to reopen their doors. For some employees, that means coming back to a workplace they haven’t seen in several weeks — and one that looks and feels very different than before COVID-19. It’s only natural for employees to feel anxious.
They might feel anxious about their personal safety. Like everyone else, your employees have been asked to keep a physical distance from people — and now they’ll be working in a close vicinity to them. Additionally, your employees will likely be asked to follow a number of new protocols, such as wearing gloves or masks, which might make them feel uncomfortable.
How can you help to ease back-to-work anxiety for your employees?
Here are some things to consider:
- Assess employees’ return–to–work readiness – Some employers are sending out questionnaires and asking their employees if they’d like to return back to work in person or continue working remotely. If they choose the latter option, they’re asked to give an explanation. For some companies, any reason is acceptable for not coming back in person yet, such as “I’m worried about COVID-19.” It just helps the organization gauge how their workforce is feeling about returning back during COVID-19, which can help to inform new policies and potential resources.
- Make sure people have what they need to feel comfortable at work. Not sure what people need to ease back-to-work anxiety? Ask them. It can be as simple as adding a question to the same survey, such as “What changes would you like to see made at the office after COVID-19?” or “How can we help support you in transitioning back to work?” Maybe you find that your employees want masks and gloves provided to them. Or maybe your company has an open work space and your employees would feel more comfortable if partition walls were installed. They might simply want disinfectant wipes supplied in common areas. The best way to figure out what would make employees feel safe is to ask them directly — and implement their feedback where possible. Unaddressed concerns is what led to “May Day,” when U.S. workers at some major companies walked off the job in protest of treatment during COVID-19.
- Make a list of mental health resources to share. You might already have mental health resources in play that can help employees struggling with back-to-work anxiety. Starbucks, for example, provides its U.S. partners (how the company refers to employees) and eligible family members with 20 mental health sessions with a therapist or coach each year. Or maybe your workplace has a gym with group yoga classes that are offered live and virtually. Compile these offerings and send them out in a companywide email. Your employees may have learned about these benefits when they first started, but didn’t utilize them at the time. Now, these offerings may be more valuable to them than ever. If you’re not yet offering mental health support for employees, it’s the right time to start. Companies are starting to realize that they need to spend more on mental health on the front end, in order to avoid upstream medical costs.
- Schedule a virtual companywide training about new protocols. Employees should know what to expect when returning back to work long before they pull into the parking lot. Will temperatures be taken at the door? Are you limiting capacity in communal areas, such as the lunchroom or conference rooms? Consider holding a virtual training and recording it for any employees that might be onboarded in the near future. Also, post signage throughout the building to remind people of the new policies, such as how many people are allowed in communal areas at a time or to wipe down shared equipment with a disinfectant wipe before and after each use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers some helpful reopening guidance for cleaning and disinfecting workplaces. You should also let employees know what you’re doing to help keep them safe, such as increasing the frequency of deep cleanings.
- Know that it’s a process and not a checkbox. Just as every person is at a different phase in their return-to-work readiness, so is every business. Aduro has released a 5-phase Work Readiness Model™, which maps out each stage and offers guidance on when a company is ready to build to more productive stages of operation — safely and effectively. Like everything else during COVID-19, reopening your business and having your employees feel comfortable, there is a process that takes time and patience. The plan will also have to be fluid, taking new information and recommendations from the CDC and other experts into account. Whether your employees are working from home or the office, the most important thing is making sure you put their safety first, which, in turn, puts your business in a better position for reopening success.