Businesses have been returning to their offices post-pandemic for some time now, albeit to a ‘new normal.’ With such significant ongoing change and unprecedented concerns, returning to the office is understandably evoking some anxieties for both staff and employers.
As an employer, it can be challenging to navigate these transitions while keeping staff anxieties down and productivity high. Here are some strategies to help manage employee anxiety when returning to office life.
Take the time to understand their anxieties
We can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. So, before you attempt to support returning employees’ anxieties, it’s important to first understand what exactly they are feeling anxious about.
There can be a number of reasons why an employee may feel anxious about returning to the office environment; it could be a social anxiety after so long working from home, concerns about adapting back to the faster pace of office life, fear of feeling unsafe – the list goes on.
It can also sometimes be difficult for the employee themselves to pinpoint what they are feeling concerned about, so it’s essential to take the time to talk it through with them in an understanding way. In some instances, it can be helpful to create an anonymous form of reporting their worries, allowing them to feel more comfortable to share what they are feeling, and giving you a deeper insight as to what needs to be addressed.
Provide tools and strategies to manage anxiety
It’s important to take a proactive approach to supporting your employees through this transition (as opposed to simply talking it out).
Invest some time and resources into educating your staff on subjects such as stress and panic attacks, and provide them with a variety of coping strategy information. Encourage a judgment-free environment in which employees can feel comfortable practicing breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques at their desk, or request for some time-out to get some fresh air.
This is also a great time to implement some general, ongoing wellness-related resources, such as wellbeing check-in apps and perks such as discounts on local yoga classes. It is important to also implement security technology that not only secures your employees in a physical and cyber space but also conveniently.
A type of technology that can help reduce anxiety about forgetting employee badges to gain access to buildings are keyless commercial access control systems, which leverage mobile phones as credentials instead of physical cards and fobs.
Stay open and flexible
When the pandemic hit, businesses (and everyone) had to adapt to being far more mentally flexible – virtually everything about our daily lives had to be recalibrated to fit into the chaos as best as possible.
This level of ongoing disruption brought about some changes that have not disappeared alongside the gradual quieting of Covid. Remote working might have been hard for some to adapt to, but once it became the norm, many workers have experienced the advantages and don’t want to return to the former working model.
According to a 2021 survey by FlexJobs, 98% of those who became remote workers during the pandemic either want to remain so (65%), or at least wish for ongoing flexible, hybrid work options (33%) post-Covid. Even more telling, is that 60% of respondents reported that they would seek new employment if their current position refused to allow ongoing remote working options.
Unless your business will experience significant negative impacts from facilitating ongoing flexible work options, it’s in your best interests to remain flexible with your staff and be willing to reimagine how this new normal could look.
Prioritize clear and meaningful communication
Staff resistant to returning to ‘normal’ office life may feel agitated and even confused as to why it’s necessary to do so. Left unaddressed, these feelings of confusion can lead to resentment, inevitably impacting working relations and productivity.
If returning to the physical office, either full or part-time, is unavoidable, then make sure you communicate clearly and openly with your staff. Make sure they understand the reasons behind your decision and why it’s so important to the running of the business.
Be willing to answer any questions or concerns, and also be open to hearing their opinion and ideas regarding how best to move forward; if you don’t agree, that’s fine, but at least you have heard them out and demonstrated your willingness to consider their point of view.
Outline all Covid-related protocols clearly
As we know, the Covid-19 vaccination doesn’t fully protect us from contracting the virus, or passing it on to others. Some workers may be understandably concerned about the elevated risks of returning to the office, especially if they live with or care for vulnerable people.
Make sure you adhere to all necessary Covid-19 protocols and keep your staff fully informed of all policies and requirements. Giving your staff the reassurance that all appropriate measures are being taken can help them to feel more comfortable about the return to office – some may be more concerned than others, and you will have to take this on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that you provide adequate consideration and understanding to their position.
Meet your employees where they are at
Ultimately, your employees are all individuals with their own unique feelings, needs and concerns, and treating them as such will help to address any return-to-office anxieties. Investing in your employees should always be a priority, but all the more when there are so many changes afoot.
In many cases, people just need a little reassurance and a sense that their concerns are validated, so meet them where they are at and do what you can to meet their needs.
This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness by Dan Matthews.