At the time of this writing we’re hovering around a 50% vaccination rate for adults in the US.
As the progress continues, companies are looking forward to the time when they can start bringing more of their employees back into the office. This forward-thinking has focused a lot on the physical building design and safety protocols but is often missing a key aspect of the return to work: their employees’ emotional wellbeing.
While many companies have started to bring people back slowly, there has not been a rush except for aside from essential businesses where it has been required. The new normal will probably look nothing like the old normal.
According to Gartner, 69% of employers expect at least half of their employees to work from home part-time, even after we are all vaccinated. This hybrid model of work, with some people in the office, some people at home, and many people doing both, will be a big change from the old status quo. The success of this model is dependent on a number of factors, many of which are focused on the emotional state of the employees and their front-line managers.
Companies need to consider a number of psychological factors as they integrate people back into the office.
Increased Stress Levels
The level of anxiety and stress that employees returning to work have can be significant. Every one of your employees has gone through a drastic change over the course of the shutdown. Surveys have shown that the pandemic has raised the levels of stress across the board to where almost 1/3 of people are experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety and psychological stress.
Varying Levels of Desire to Return
Research indicates that there is a significant difference in people’s desire to return to the office. Some people can’t wait to rub shoulders and be able to work side-by-side with their peers. Others feel the exact opposite and are still concerned over their safety or that of loved ones or have other responsibilities that make returning to work difficult. Then, there are a number who are in between, who would like to have some social contact in person, but have grown to appreciate some of the aspects of working from home. These differences could lead to disruption and conflict if not handled with care. And while many companies are offering the option of coming back in, employees fear that if they don’t, they will be seen as not good corporate citizens or that they won’t have the same visibility as those in the office, leading to less chance of getting promoted, getting a good raise, or even getting the top projects.
Polarization of Views or the Politicization of the Workplace
One negative that the pandemic has brought about is an increased polarization around the pandemic itself. Everything from the severity of COVID-19, to wearing masks, to getting vaccinated now has a polarizing political bent to it. While in the past most organizations eschewed political discussion in the workplace, the new reality is that it will be hard to avoid. This increased tension, not only leads to more stress, but also to decreased teamwork and camaraderie.
All of this leads to a workplace that is set to implode if the return to work is not handled appropriately. Companies need to be thinking about how they are going to ensure the emotional well-being of their employees during this transition and beyond.
What should companies do?
Our work with a number of the top behavioral scientists across the globe has shown that while this integration can be difficult, there are steps that companies can take to make it better. Together with Behavioral Grooves, we have developed a process that can help companies succeed in this transition. We are calling this process Leading Human™ and it is based on four key tenants:
Building psychological safety inside your company
Psychological safety is the basis to drive the emotional well-being of employees. It encompasses three key tenants: 1) inclusion, 2) the right to challenge, and 3) contribution. Team members need to feel like they are part of a team based on who they are as a person, without having to worry about being shunned or ignored. They also need to feel safe challenging the team and leadership, expressing their views without fear of being retaliated against. Finally, they need to feel like their opinion is valued and that they are making a contribution.
Crfating team charters
Team charters outline an agreed-upon mode of interaction and expectations for your team. While we often think that the team understands this, it is not always the case. Creating a team charter that specifically outlines how the team interacts with each other, how they want to be communicated with, what is the overarching vision of the team, and how the team defines success is vital to the team’s smooth interaction.
Utilize Leading Human™ leadership practices
In Leading Human™ We outline five practices that leaders can implement to increase the likelihood that their employees will feel safe, appreciated, and listened too. These range from conducting team alignment sessions, facilitating human-centered check-ins, building positive habits and routines, crafting emotionally aware communications, and ensuring that recognition is around the whole person.
Provide clarity around the future
People are anxious when their future is uncertain or unclear. While no manager can predict the future, managers can layout the vision that they have for the future and break that down into short-term milestones. This helps motivate employees as well as provide clear guidance on performance over the short run. These can be quarterly, monthly, and weekly (note – they are not exclusive – you can have all three timelines).
Our work has shown that these four tenets (Creating Psychological Safety, Building a Team Charter, Implementing Human-Centered Routines, and Charting a Clear Path Forward) can make a significant difference in employees’ emotional connection to the company and to and help smooth transitions we face in the new working world. The Leading Human™ playbook and companion workbook guide managers through specific rationale on each of those key areas and give them specific tools to implement these ideas to create a roadmap for success.
To learn more about why these processes are so critical to today’s working world grab our free whitepaper here.
Stay ahead of the competition and solidify your company’s future in the new world by preordering Leading Human™ here at $20 off.*
*Pre-orders are limited to single license downloads – for multiple licenses and/or corporate/enterprise level pricing please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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