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What to Do if Your Employees Don’t Want to Go Back to the Office

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of employers across the country to either transition to a remote workforce, or else halt their business operations entirely. The former option is certainly preferable to the latter, although not every business has proven to be conducive to the remote workforce model.

Those businesses that have been fortunate enough to maintain relatively normal operations under the work-from-home model have faced a number of challenges over the past year. It’s become difficult, for example, for many employers to foster a sense of camaraderie and common purpose while all of their team members are working remotely. Maintaining a schedule of frequent and productive check-ins with employees has become another common pain point for managers across industries.

Luckily, modern video conferencing platforms such as Zoom have ameliorated those pandemic-era challenges to a significant degree. But now that a slow, steady, and nationwide transition back into the workplace is underway, many employers are being confronted with an entirely new kind of problem: Having to convince reluctant employees that it is, in fact, safe to return to the workplace.

Feeling anxious about the prospect of returning to the workplace is a perfectly understandable and defensible position. As employers, we should absolutely be cognizant and respectful of the fact that many of our employees are going to feel somewhat skeptical about our return to work strategies.

At the same time, the return to the workplace is an important (and for many of us, time-sensitive) transition that will need to be carried out eventually, hopefully with the full cooperation of our employees. Therefore, it’s crucial for employers to be able to engage in an open and honest dialogue with any employees who are feeling some hesitation about returning to the office, so that those fears can be assuaged.

Only when that happens – in other words, only once every individual employee feels comfortable with their employer’s return to work strategy – will a safe, orderly, and efficient transition back into the workplace be able to take place.

Tips for Engaging with Employees Who Are Nervous About the Return to Work

If a handful of your employees have expressed some apprehension about the prospect of returning to work during the COVID-19 crisis, don’t worry – you’re not alone. In this new and anxious era of social distancing, we have every reason to expect that a large percentage of the population is going to have some serious doubts about returning to the office in the midst of the pandemic.

However, the good news is that there are some simple and effective engagement strategies that can help you make your employees feel more secure and comfortable with the idea of returning to work.

There are two strategies, in particular, that will be essential for employers to leverage in the days and weeks leading up to the return to the workplace. We’ve outlined each of those strategies below:

Make your return to work as comprehensive and airtight as possible.

It’s impossible for every plan to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t aim to be as close to perfect as possible. This is especially true when it comes to the return to work, which (for obvious reasons) should be treated as an exceptionally delicate process. As team leaders, we need to be intimately familiar with the health and safety laws, regulations, and best practices that are currently in place, both at the state and at the federal levels.

The recently released OSHA guidelines, for example, should play a central role in the formulation and execution of your return to work strategy. In the same way, you should also be sure to research, understand, and implement all of the social distancing tools and procedures that will be necessary within your particular workplace. By taking the time in the present to carefully devise your return to work strategy, you can significantly decrease the chances of having to face an anxious staff when it’s time to return to work.

Remember to treat your employees as individuals.

In many cases, it won’t be enough to simply develop a single return to work strategy for your entire workforce. That’s a bit like telling all of your employees that their year-end reviews will be determined solely on the basis of their ability (or inability) to run a full marathon. Some of your employees are going to excel in those circumstances, and others are going to be at a severe disadvantage.

It’s important to remember that some of your employees are going to have specific conditions or ailments that will legitimately make it unsafe for them to return to the office at the same time as their colleagues. The best way to account for those immunocompromised employees is to give each of them a chance to reach out to you directly and privately. You should not ask your employees to raise their hands if they are immunocompromised during a team Zoom meeting, because this is quite sensitive and personal information to many people. Instead, you might consider sending out a company-wide email which states that any employee who feels unsafe about returning to work should reach out to you directly to state their case. From there, the two of you can proceed to formulate a more personalized plan that will take that employee’s individual health into account.

Learn More About How to Prepare Your Team for the Return to Work

Are you curious to learn more about what employers can do in the here and now to prepare their employees for the transition back into the workplace? If so, the expert recruiters at Patel Consultants are standing by and ready to help. Contact our office today to start optimizing your company’s return to work strategy!