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Removing the social pressures of returning to work with a smart plan

“Do you want to meet in the conference room today?”

Who knew there would come a time when that simple sentence could drive up my heart rate and send my palms into a clammy sweat?

What was intended as an innocent attempt to see if anyone on our close-knit team needed a little human interaction, unintentionally sent my mind spiraling into a panicked series of “what ifs”:

  • What if I haven’t been careful enough lately, and I’m an asymptomatic carrier that infects someone on my team?

  • What if I’m the only one in the room that wears a face mask?

  • What if there isn’t a window to open?

  • What if I sneeze?

  • Or need to use the restroom?

  • Or forget to wipe the light switch?

  • And, most dreadfully, what if I’m the only one who’s worried?!

Those “what ifs” were the result of my people-pleasing side getting crossed with my inner rule follower: one wanted me to engage—I’m the most recent hire, what will it say about me if I’m the only one not there?—while the other wanted to stay safe and avoid any contact—because COVID-19 has made daily routines scary.

I realized that at the heart of this internal conflict was a simple question: How can I find out if declining to come into the office will be interpreted as careful or less committed?

Unfortunately, that simple question lacked a simple answer. I couldn’t find out, unless I took a risk and first signaled my intentions. I was stuck.

In a Mercer study of 735 U.S. employers, more than 45 percent said they are struggling with workers who are reluctant to return to their workplaces because of fear of getting sick. So, there’s a lot of us.

The good news is, organizations can take concrete steps to alleviate employees’ fears and anxiety. Simple tweaks to how you communicate can relieve the social pressure associated with returning-to-work. The key is to be intentional and put together a plan. Organizations that have a detailed, intentional, manageable plan for returning-to-work can answer their team’s “what-ifs.”

Specific steps to take:

1. Create time to listen to your teams’ feelings, privately and as a group.

You can’t create a return-to-work plan that addresses their fears and concerns if you haven’t heard them. Between the CDC, OSHA, and DHEC, there plenty of rules and checklists, but those organizations don’t know your people, your culture, and your specific needs. Safety is first on everyone’s mind, but that is only part of the equation. Set up time to talk with people one-on-one, and then bring them together as a group to share what you’ve heard and to ask for feedback about potential solutions. 2. Communicate as much detail as possible.

We all have a feeling of information overload. The past few months have been a whirlwind of conflicting ideas and suggestions. So, it may be tempting when creating your return-to-work plans to keep them light. This, however, is the time to be as detailed as possible in every aspect to remove any room for questions or assumptions. You want your team to review your plans and leave thinking, “Wow! They’ve thought everything!” When it comes to your teams’ safety and well-being, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. 3. Slow and steady — this one can’t be a race.

When building your plan make sure you’ve added additional steps and milestones to evaluate your actions along the way. Additionally, be sure to include remediation and contingency steps in case of setbacks. Employees want to know that this will not just steamroll ahead no matter what the impacts are. 4. Acknowledge the stress of your team.

Managing fears, families, and turbulent working conditions is a foreign circumstance to many. This unforeseen situation has been stressful – for everyone. When rolling out your new plan, acknowledge the stress your team has been under and be transparent about every step of the process. Your return-to-work plans should reduce their list of unknowns instead of adding to it.

At Moovila, we understand that returning-to-work is a high-risk project that requires more than reading a few blog posts and creating a checklist. If you want to ensure that your return-to-work plan is properly managed and executed in a transparent & efficient environment, reach out to our team for a demo. We’ve even set up COVID-19 Return-to-Work templates to get you started.



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