How to Ease Employees’ Return to Work Anxiety

The sense of uncertainty is a common trigger for anxiety. And if 2020 has had one hallmark characteristic, uncertainly would be it. As many companies consider returning to the office, they must also factor in employees’ natural apprehension about what this will entail.

We know it won’t look like what we knew, but what will it be like?

Your employees are undoubtedly asking that same question about returning to the office. It will be a mixed range of emotions and the better you can preempt and help your staff navigate this new anxiety, the more smoothly and quickly you can get back to work.

No alt text provided for this image

First things first: is your office ready to reopen?

Once you’ve received the green light from the government to consider reopening your office, you then have to establish if you’ve taken the necessary steps to actually do so.

Have you completed a full risk assessment of your space, reworked flow and other high traffic areas to allow for social distancing? Will you do temperature checks at the door or virtual health evaluations prior to work? What about an isolation room for a suspected infection? There is a great deal to consider when it comes to the physical safety of your office. (If you’re not sure where to start or would like a professional sign-off on the work you’ve done, our team at Capella can help ensure your office is ready to welcome back your staff.)

Once you’ve completed the essential measures to bring you staff back safely, the next, and arguably most important step is communication.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Email, Zoom, town hall, smoke signals, whatever it takes, make sure that your employees are as informed as possible in your plans to reopen your office. Uncertainty is uncomfortable at best; add a pandemic to the mix and it can result in legitimate anxiety. 

Employees have feared the worst over the past several months. Will my company survive? Will I keep my job? How will I manage on less money if they cut salaries? The more you can communicate with your employees the state of the company and the plans for the future, the more proactively you can manage this disruptive source of angst. This is especially true when it comes to reopening your office.

If you do not inform your employees of the steps you have taken to safely bring them back to the office and how these changes will impact them personally, they are left to draw their own conclusions – likely at 2am lying awake in bed.

Be particularly mindful of any employees who may be high-risk. It’s important that they understand the measures you have taken to ensure their safety as they may be feeling especially fearful about leaving their home.

Offer flexibility and understanding

It’s important to consider individual concerns as well. Your extroverted employees may be excited for the return to socialization and nervous about how new restrictions will affect that. Those who have relished working from home – whether for the increased work/life flexibility or the quiet workspace (parents, just trust us on that one…) – the return to the office may leave them unsure and worried if that will all suddenly go away.

Similarly, for those employees who need to take public transportation to get to work, while the office may be ready, they might be feeling apprehensive about their commute.

To create a smooth transition back to work, whatever that looks like for your company, it’s essential to recognize the unique concerns of different employees. Encourage your managers to lead with empathy and curiosity to first understand those worries. If possible, offer flexibility in remote and in-office work, working hours, or other creative areas to help alleviate worry for your staff around this transition. The accommodations may only be temporary but will go a long way in bringing your employees back into the office in a productive way.

Support each other

It seems intuitive, especially if you have created a culture where employees are already encouraged to care and collaborate with each other, but now is the time to formalize this support. HR cannot do it alone; mangers and even your employees should be trained on how to recognize signs of distress both in themselves or their teammates and what options they have for support.

Some common cues include:

  • Decreased productivity or engagement
  • Change in mood, attitude, or personality. If your normally social colleague is suddenly withdrawn and irritable, that may be a cue they are having trouble coping
  • Changes in appearance. We’ve all gotten more casual in lockdown, of course, but when a teammate consistently comes to the office or a virtual meeting disheveled or out of sorts, this may a sign of something deeper

And now we board the roller-coaster…

The train has left the platform so to speak, and for many companies re-opening their office will be a reality in the coming weeks or months. Planning for safety first and foremost, communicating as much as you possibly can, and providing support and flexibility will help this process be smooth and mindful. It will have its bumps and learning curves, but by following these tips, you can help your employees transition back to the office with less anxiety and hopefully more excitement!