Employers Struggle to Bring Employees Back into the Office

Rose Bak

Not all the pandemic changes were bad, and most workers don’t want to go back to “normal”. Here are 3 ways you can make a healthy transition back to the office.

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As states and cities around the country lift mask mandates and companies recall workers to the office, many employees are concerned. And rightly so. There’s still a pandemic, and even if there wasn’t, workers are loathe to give up some of the benefits they’ve attained over the last two years.

Here are three important things you can do to help your employees stay healthy, happy, and engaged as your organization navigates the end of masks and quarantines.

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Maintain a hybrid work environment.

Before the pandemic, many managers and workers were skeptical about teleworking. Honestly, I was one of them. How could we know people were working if they weren’t sitting in our line of sight? Wouldn’t they just watch Netflix and day drink instead of working?

It turns out that teleworking has been beneficial for both workers and employers.

Working from home creates a lot of extra time. There’s no commute, no going out to a restaurant or coffee shop for breaks, no standing around the copier gossipping. Studies have shown that workers have used this extra time to add in positive activities like exercise, hobbies, and spending more time with their family. Healthier and happier workers are more effective workers.

For me, I’ve gone into the office one to two days a week throughout the pandemic and teleworked the remaining days. It’s been great to be able to throw in a load of laundry between meetings or walk the dog on my lunch break. That’s cleared up my after-hours time for more enjoyable activities like writing and yoga.

As for productivity fears, numerous studies have shown that the average worker is actually putting in more hours now than prior to the pandemic. Teleworking is good for productivity, and that’s good for your business or organization.

Consider setting a requirement for people to work in the office one or two days a week with an option to telework the rest of the week. Some staff may want to come back full time, but it’s likely most of your team will appreciate the chance to set their own schedule. Bonus: this will help you maintain good employees.

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Encourage healthy habits.

Prior to the pandemic, it was not unusual for people to come into the office hacking up a lung. One of the best things about pandemic protocols was the commitment to let staff who are sick be able to rest instead of working.

Encourage your staff to maintain that commitment to health. Advise staff that if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms they should continue to stay at home. Or, if they feel well enough to work, let them telework. Avoid having every cold and virus that’s going around impact your workforce.

Another way to promote a healthy work environment is to encourage people to keep wearing masks in common areas. Masks are a divisive issue, but as an employer, you should create a safe environment for people who choose to wear masks.

You may not know why the employee is wearing a mask. They may be immune-compromised or worried about people at home who are sick or unable to be vaccinated, or maybe they’re just not ready to give masks up until the pandemic is fully over. Regardless of the reason, implement a “masks welcome” policy and be clear with your staff that mask shaming or questioning mask wearing is not allowed.

Finally, if your employees are uncomfortable with in-person contact as social events resume, respect their right to stay isolated and healthy.

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Support employee mental health.

Mental health experts are warning that the so-called “fourth wave” of the pandemic will not be COVID, it will be mental health concerns. We’ve all seen the gradual decline of people’s emotional well-being.

Friends, family, or staff who used to be cheerful may not be depressed. People are increasingly prone to angry outbursts or breaking down in tears. The last few years have been a lot for everyone, and not just because of the pandemic.

It’s more important than ever for employers to support mental health. If your company or agency doesn’t have an “employee assistance” program, now is the time to sign up. As you renew your health insurance plans for the year, look for ways to expand mental health and addictions treatment. Your employees need this support.

Be prepared for the fact that even while we need it more than ever, accessing mental health services is becoming more and more difficult.

Community mental health providers are grappling with the impacts of “The Great Resignation”. Women have lost more than twenty years of gains in the workforce since the pandemic started, and the impacts of this are being felt most acutely in fields that are female-dominated, like social work and mental health counseling.

Allow your employees flexibility around schedules if they need it to take advantage of mental health services.

Now is also a good time to evaluate how trauma-informed your workplace is.

Your employees, every single one of them, are coming out of the trauma of the pandemic. They’ve lost loved ones, experienced increases in family violence, become more isolated, and have delayed routine physical health treatment. The entire workforce is managing collective trauma. Actively look for ways your workplace can help avoid re-traumatizing your best asset: your employees.

What things are you doing to help your workplace transition?

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR
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