From normal…to pivoting remote…to new normal…to pivoting again?
In March of 2020, companies had to quickly figure out how to effectively pivot to keep their workforce safe and operable. It was not easy, but we managed and found innovative ways to keep working. Not everyone loved the remote WFH model… but many did.
Despite the fact that less than 50% of the U.S. has been vaccinated, restrictions continue to relax and many companies are keeping their re-opened doors open.
Enter the Delta Variant, the latest twist in what feels like a never-ending story. As the plot thickens yet again, employees who were once ok returning to the office a month ago are having second thoughts. As much as we all wish for this Pandemic saga to be over, the continuous lack of stability reiterates the same dilemma:
How do we safely and confidently settle in to a new normal when there is no real consistency and the situation keeps evolving?
Which leads us to another question…
Are employers even aware of what their employees are going through?
Leaders who become experts in their employees’ concerns will be better able to provide a supportive work environment for their employees. In return, companies with employees who feel heard and supported are less likely to experience high turnover.
From what we have observed, employees tend to fall into one of two groups.
Group 1: Let’s do this!
The “Let’s do this!” group tends to be more extroverted and wants to return to the office. Here are the top concerns employees in this first group are anxious about.
1. How will I network and grow my career? Many employees are less comfortable cultivating office camaraderie without the ability to rely on in-person experiential learning. These employees are craving in-person mentorship and fear that without it their career growth may fall behind.
2. I miss the commute. My commute helped me create a psychological barrier between my personal life and work. Many people need the physical transition time between work and home to help set mental boundaries. Home used to be a place where employees could disconnect from work, but now we are hearing reports of employees struggling to find a healthy work life balance due to feeling like they are always at work.
3. People may forget I exist! Many employees are struggling with figuring out how to effectively demonstrate their commitment and talent without a live performance. Working remotely makes these people feel invisible. They crave more facetime with management to showcase their skills. Without this in-person professional interaction they are worried that they will be forgotten about when it comes time for promotions.
4. The social isolation is horrible for my mental health! Even psychologists are concerned about the long-term negative health consequences of long-term social isolation. Loneliness can be incredibly stressful, can negatively impact stress hormone levels, and can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
5. I simply don’t have a good home office! Not all home offices are created equal. Distractions from children, family, and pets may have an adverse effect on an employee’s ability to be productive. These employees lack a designated place to concentrate, and as a result they are worried about their ability to perform their tasks with excellence.
Group 2: Better safe than sorry!
This group tends to have a designated home office space and has discovered they are more productive working remotely. They are dreading going back-to-office. Here are the top concerns employees in Group 2 are anxious about.
1. I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t want to return to the office. If the majority of their colleagues are vociferously in Group 1, then folks in Group 2 do not want to be the odd one out. They simply don’t know how to push back and voice their difference of opinion without causing conflict or eliciting unwanted negative judgement upon themselves.
2. I have an underlying health issue. These employees tend to prefer privacy and shy away from openly discussing their underlying health concerns. They are happy and productive working from home and consider the pressure to return to a potentially unhealthy environment completely unnecessary. This risk of needless exposure is causing them a great deal of valid anxiety.
3. I feel like I have more time to be productive now that there is no commute. While a commute may be a benefit for those in Group 1, Group 2 folks find the commute to be a cumbersome nuisance. The hassle of fighting traffic, finding parking, paying for toll roads, and the hours spent driving that could have been spent squeezing in a workout or dinner with family is a reality which many are struggling to reconcile.
4. Will staying remote hurt my chances for a promotion? Despite feeling that they are more productive working remotely, these folks are trying to decide if accommodating leadership’s preference to return to the office is more important than remaining in a distraction-free work environment where they may be currently thriving.
5. I am a caretaker – how am I supposed to balance the responsibilities of my personal life with the expectations of my employer? Employees who may not have previously been caretakers may have new responsibilities in their personal lives caring for those that are no longer able to care for themselves as they did pre-Pandemic. Returning to the office simply does not allow these employees the flexibility to balance their professional responsibilities with their personal obligations.
So what is an employer to do?
Now that you have been informed on the most common difficulties the modern-day workforce is facing, you have the responsibility as leadership to take action.
The best way leaders can begin addressing these stressful situations is to acknowledge them. If you have not addressed COVID-19 concerns with your employees recently, now is a great time for an executive announcement to acknowledge and validate the legitimacy of the concerns of both groups.
While there are no concrete rules for unprecedented times, corporate leadership can still navigate even the most tumultuous climates with an empathetic mindset.
Taking advantage of every opportunity to listen, respond, and engage with your employees will promote retention and empower you to source solutions successfully.