A recent study by MindMap Advance Research found that an overwhelming majority of 93 percent of employees are anxious about returning to work on account of their health being compromised, while 85% of them want health safety guidelines enforced in their offices with immediate effect. A majority-59 percent are concerned about their health, 25 percent said they are anxious about their financial situation, while 16 percent fear that the crisis will be a prolonged one and this uncertainty is adding further to anxiety & restlessness.
How do organizations and employers tackle this challenge when the workforce returns to the physical workplace post-lockdown? Are they ready to receive the employees and also, more importantly, are the employees prepared for the eventual return?
We agree that the novel coronavirus has irrevocably changed the nature of work and the state of mind of employees. The current crisis has induced high-stress levels in both employees as well as organizations at large, coupled with lockdown challenges & uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, which has led to a host of emotional challenges being confronted by employees on a daily basis globally. Hence, it becomes all the more important for employers to ensure that the transition to the ‘new normal’ is safe, smooth and effective, aligning both the organization’s needs and the expectations of the people who make it. From the employees’ perspective, the situation at hand is an opportunity for their employers to offer a safe & secure post-lockdown workplace by deploying innovative solutions to combat the spread of COVID-19 while they’re at work.
Many organizations are making tangible operational improvements in the workplace design, safety & hygiene protocols are being undertaken actively to prepare the post-lockdown workplace. While they deliberate on a recovery readiness plan, more so than often, they’re missing out on an important piece of a puzzle which includes preparing the workforce physically, emotionally, and psychologically to return to their workplace. Employees are worried about their future, the possibility of infection from coworkers or customers, uncertain & stressed about their finances and health if they return to work. Therefore, along with safety & hygiene protocols, deploying a mitigation plan to deal with workforce anxiety should be at the top of the list for employers. A high sense of solidarity can be seen amidst the workforce, where they are willing to embrace and comply with any health monitoring initiatives by their employers, despite the inconvenience.
Here are some highly-effective methods and key insights on how organizations can effortlessly enhance the emotional and psychological readiness of the workforce as they gradually return to work:
Acknowledgment & Acceptance
To address this critical issue & help employees get through the stressful & unpredictable transition, organizations should focus on understanding how the pandemic has hit the psyche of their employees by encouraging them to share personal experiences from a work and life perspective. Also, recognizing how these experiences have impacted their personal connection to the organization’s culture and whether they feel that their employer is concerned about their safety and overall well being.
Education is empowering
Educating employees and helping them understand more about the post-lockdown workplace is vital. Every single employee will come with their own set of expectations, where some may expect nothing to have changed drastically, whereas some who will think it’ll be a completely different and unexpected experience. It’s critical to bring all the different sets of expectations at the same level so the change becomes more effective when it actually happens. This will also give the leaders an opportunity to understand how people are reacting to change, the areas of improvement, and how it can be advanced to make it more efficient during the return to the physical workplace.
Effective & consistent communication is the key
Keeping employees informed at appropriate intervals on any new developments, as and when the plans are forming, and also encouraging them to participate in the process through suggestions can go a long way in building trust and reducing the uncertainty associated with change. Also, when inviting suggestions, it’s crucial to incorporate the value addition in order to help employees feel they’re an integral part of the change management process.
Connection to organizational culture
Changes and evolution of policies when traced back to the organization’s vision and culture become easier to relate and in turn, lead to a higher acceptance rate amongst employees.
Gaining & sharing perspective through internal surveys
The viewpoints and expectations of employees captured through internal surveys can serve as a foundation for building the future of safe office design and creation of workplaces that are meaningful destinations, generating engaging experiences for employees.
Providing digital work support
With other changes in place, the team norms and structures must also evolve, in order to be inclusive of those in and outside of the office as a new normal. This includes investing resources in creating a more adept workforce at virtual tools & collaboration, and training managers at the art of leading teams spread across geographies.
As organizations endeavor to bring back employees to the physical workplace, both the employees and the employers are looking at ways to make this otherwise turbulent transition- smooth and successful. The employees are willing to participate in efforts that employers are making to ensure their overall safety & wellbeing. Another important conjecture seems to be around setting a CHR (Corporate Health Responsibility) system, to ensure safety and hygiene becomes an integral part of the system and is being enforced as per international standards, giving some sense of relief to the otherwise anxious workforce.
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