Because businesses are opening doesn’t mean that their workers feel safe enough to resume their usual activities. Both employees and employers have had unprecedented, debilitating stressors and challenges in their down time and therefore will likely resume work in some sort of compromised mindset. According to a Mercer online survey conducted in April, 2020 1 more than 45 percent of employers said they are already struggling with workers who are reluctant to return to their workplaces because of fear of getting sick.
Employers face a real dilemma of deciding whether to ask their staff to return to work and risk that being exposed to the virus or remaining further closed and risk having to permanently go out of business.
To safeguard the business, the employer and the employees, as well as enhance the effectiveness of the back to work process, it is prudent that employers are prepared upfront to effectively manage these transitional and novel working realities. So what are some things employers can do to better facilitate a smooth re-entry into the workplace and mitigate the financial fallout from anxious workers?
1. Become better educated on anxiety and stress. It is imperative to not only understand the anxiety and uncertainty of your employees, but recognize how anxiety affects performance and productivity.
The research is clear on how anxiety negatively affects job productivity 2,3,4,5,6,7 resulting in heavy financial burdens to the company.7,8 Workers with anxiety disorders have more than 1.5 times the risk of being absent for at least two weeks than those without anxiety and more than double the risk of having poor work performance. 2
2. Maintain an empathetic, understanding attitude toward fearful and anxious employees. Not all your staff (or customers) will show up with the same degree of fear. The impact of economic uncertainties, aging parents, safe accommodations for their children while parents are at work and innate propensities to be fearful are just a few factors that situate some employees to be more fearful than others. Although an employer or manager cannot manage nor erase a staff’s fears, he or she can offer support and understanding. Currently, a mere 38 percent of employers are taking the time to gather information to better understand their employee’s state of mind. 1
3. Conduct informal individual sit downs to better understand each person individually. Although many regulations and protocols will apply to everyone, some staff members may need individual attention and specific reassurances than the majority will require. Eg. More frequent breaks to check in on children and/or parents. Ask what you can do to help.
4. In a group gathering, communicate, communicate and communicate what the new work day will look like. Educate everyone about anxiety, address the stress and show your compassion, be as specific as possible in explaining new protocols, the availability of resources for staying healthy and productive, modifications to their workspaces, degree of flexibility with schedules and deadlines and be certain all questions and concerns are given attention.
5. Communicate any perceived changes to how work will be conducted once social distancing guidelines are removed? Although you cannot address all the what-ifs and how-abouts, many will indeed be looking ahead to the what next stage. By briefly addressing this, you will communicate reassurance by confirming you are not winging it as you go.
Change always brings with it concerns, fear and uncertainties. It is vital to realize that because you and/or certain employees are ready to resume work with minimal stress, not everyone will share the same emotional and mental position. By staying through to the five guidelines provided and upping your communication and leadership acumen, the transition back to work can be much smoother, ensuring a win-win for both the company and its workers. In fact, it is challenges such as this that provide the most prime opportunities to build on team strength, grow healthy relationships and positively transform work cultures.
2. Plaisier et al., 2010
3. Plaisier et al., 2012
4. Sanderson et al., 2007
5. Hendriks et al., 2015
6. Erikson et al., 2009
7. American Psychiatric Association, 2004
8. Harder et al., 2014