Coronavirus CoverageLeading During Uncertainty: How to Manage Employee Fears About Returning to Work

Leading During Uncertainty: How to Manage Employee Fears About Returning to Work

While many local governments and companies are either opening or planning to reopen, many employees are still wary about returning to the office. A recent survey by IBM revealed that 54 percent of surveyed workers would rather keep remote work as their primary work arrangement. 

Much of this sentiment is likely due to the perks associated with working from home. Still, it is also safe to assume that many are afraid to return to the office out of fear of getting sick (as indicated by a survey conducted by HR consulting firm, Mercer). 

These are tough issues that business owners, managers, and employees have to navigate. 

How do you handle a situation where you may be ready to reopen, but most of your team is understandably fearful about returning to the physical office? 

Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your team. However, below are some steps you can walk through to make the choice that works best for your situation. 

Start by Listening

Your job isn’t to erase the fear of your employees. That is an impossible task in a climate where each day brings stressful news about the public health and economic fallout of COVID-19. Nevertheless, you can help your team address their fears by offering up support and listening to them. 

Show your team that you care about their concerns by talking with them about what most frightens them about this experience. You can begin to form solutions that target specific issues when you know the problems they are facing. Your employees will appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider their input. 

Be as Transparent as Possible

When you don’t offer the truth, it makes it easy for your team to create their own. The goal isn’t to scare them or give information that they don’t need. Nevertheless, you want to show transparency. For example, if you have a business that requires certain positions to be onsite, be direct about when you need them back in the office. Also, discuss in detail the provisions you are making to ensure their safety. Are you providing PPE? Will hours be shortened? How often are you cleaning the area? Inform your team of the decision, but go into as much detail as possible about what they can expect. 

Establish Return to Work Procedures That Makes Sense

While your clients or customers may be ready to resume business as usual, your objective is to provide a safe environment for them as well as your workers. This may mean that you have to alter how you do business. A great example of this is car dealerships. Many have switched to an appointment-only approach to enforce social distancing adequately, this has notably taken place in states like New York and Michigan

You have to determine what this looks like for your company. The strategy should be to take into account all the ways that reopening will impact your staff’s work experience. Will anyone need to use public transportation? How will parents secure childcare if daycare facilities are closed in the area? How will you replace client-employee meetings? These are all elements you need to think about as you plan a return-to-work strategy. 

Related: How to Plan to Rebuild Your Small Business After Coronavirus

Offer Holistic Help 

To say that everyone has been through a lot during this time is an understatement. This crisis has brought on numerous threats to everyone’s physical and mental health, as well as residual impacts on how we live our daily lives. So, as an owner, you want to be as supportive as you can. This can look like: 

  • Connect employees with affordable or free mental health services like counseling. 
  • Allow employees to establish a healthy work-life balance by banning work on the weekends and sticking to Pre-COVID-19 work hours as much as possible. 
  • Be flexible with workers who are caregivers to children or elderly family members. Work with them to establish customized work arrangements. 
  • Point individuals into the direction of resources that can help them if they are struggling with managing finances or keeping food on the table. 

Many of the things that your workers may be afraid of could be tied to the effects of COVID-19. Recognizing this, and providing help and resources may make transitioning into this “new normal” a little easier. 

Communicate Work-Related Changes to Customers

You may have your internal situation organized, but it will be hard to implement if customers are not aware of the changes. For example, some of your customers may express frustration if there are longer lines because of social distancing measures or if employees can only meet with them virtually. 

You can make returning to the office or workspace a lot easier on your employees if customers have an idea of what to expect. Your employees already have a lot to handle. While you cannot prevent every outburst or disruptive customer, it would help if customers were told about any relevant protocol or rule changes ahead of time. 

Everyone is Adjusting to “The New Normal”

Everyone is tossing around the phrase “the new normal.” While it may be losing its luster, the meaning behind it still holds. These are uncharted times, and the uncertainties brought on by COVID-19 are forcing business owners to have to make some tough decisions. 

Your goal as a leader is to help support your team, provide as much information as possible, and involve them in setting up a plan to return to a physical workspace. Again, every business owner has to do what they feel is best with the information they have. We hope the steps above have helped you come a little closer to a choice that benefits everyone involved. 

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Chanell Turner
Chanell Turner
Chanell Turner is a contributing writer and investigative journalist for ASBN.

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