Strategies to Reduce Employees’ Return-to-work Stress

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Posted by: CMR August 31, 2021 No Comments

As local governments begin lifting COVID restrictions, millions of people are gearing up for the return to the physical office. While there’s plenty to be excited for, reopening plans can also be a source of anxiety, especially for those employees who have effectively adapted to remote work, and now find themselves needing to adapt again. It’s important for us to remember that there is no return to normal. There is no going back to May 2019. People have evolved, become more resilient and learned a lot about themselves. Whether you’ve already announced a return-to-office plan or are still figuring out what the timeline will be, HR leaders are critical in providing guidance on how to best welcome employees back to the office and tools to continue to build resilience in your workforce.

There are several strategies HR can undertake to make this process easier for employees to navigate.

The best return to office plans directly engage employees. Ask what is on peoples’ minds and adapt the return to office plans to reflect their questions and concerns. Use company-wide communication tools to gather feedback on what people want their future workspace to look like. Asking questions such as, “Would you prefer to continue working remotely on some days?” and “Do you feel comfortable voicing concerns about returning to the office?” can help you make informed decisions based on employees’ mental well-being. Be transparent with your plans and invite feedback. Inevitably, something that is proposed won’t work or will need to be walked back. That’s fine. Let your employees know that you’re all in this together. You’ll try some things that work and some things that don’t. You’ll adapt the company’s practices as employees adapt to returning to the office. I cannot overstate the value of continuing to actively engage, communicate, and involve your employees in the return-to-office approach. Create a perpetual motion of engagement and adaptation to maximize the experience everyone has when they return to the office.

Mindful managers make the difference

Many employees are still dealing with personal trauma and burnout from the past year. Everyday workplace routines, from water cooler conversations to company meetings, will feel slightly different in the future.

Encourage, educate, and reward mindful management — not just effective management. Mindful managers will continue to stay engaged, lead with empathy, and show vulnerability. HR teams can prepare managers for this by openly discussing the expectations of what it means to be a mindful manager, rolling out a series of training and proactively coaching managers on ways to make them more open and aware of their reports. A mindful manager will aid in reducing the stigma of having mental wellness conversations at work that will ultimately lead to higher employee engagement and overall performance.

Provide resources for mental wellness

Over the past year, companies have started introducing mental health benefits to help employees build mental resilience. Regardless of whether you have a remote-first or a return-to-office model, the momentum from these changes should continue. If you aren’t already doing so, prioritize adopting benefits to support the emotional mental health of your population.

This might mean introducing a mental wellness experience like Calm, which employees can also use outside of work hours — most people use Calm for its Sleep Stories, which are designed to help people sleep better. Providing stipends for employees with a difficult commute or offering to pay relocation costs for those who moved during the pandemic can also make the transition easier by reducing the financial stress associated with returning to the office. Even something as simple as integrating mental health days into your PTO calendar can shift your workplace culture towards one of openness around well-being. Each stage of the pandemic offered its own unique challenges. As we enter yet another stage, employee mental health and well-being should be a priority for all organizations. By keeping employees’ mental health top of mind, HR leaders can play a pivotal role in ushering in a new workplace culture that is better for all.

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Author: CMR

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