Returning to the Office – 3 Things Your Employees Might Want You to Think About

Here we are a year and ½ later since the start of the pandemic and no one ever expected we would still be dealing with pandemic-related issues. If you thought you were stressed and burned out a year ago, I can only imagine what you are feeling now!

As leaders I’m sure it has been incredibly difficult to hold it all together with so much uncertainty for so long, a challenging business environment, and all the people issues you’ve had to deal with.

Maybe if you (like many) haven’t gotten it totally right this last 18 months, as organizations bring their employees back to the workplace slowly, now may be an opportunity to review and revise your approach and there’s good reason to do so right now.

In 2020, over 40 million people lost their jobs, and now all of a sudden we are in the middle of ‘The Great Resignation’, people are looking outside their organizations for new work in record numbers and there are lots of open positions. (In fact, 2.7% of the US workforce quit in April 2021, and a survey from Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer within the next 12 months.)  Many employees have realized they don’t love what they do and many are not going to put up with it if the environment they find themselves in right now is lacking.  People don’t leave organizations; they leave their managers so there is a lot you as a leader can do to stem this potential tide of resignations.  And it is so much cheaper (and rewarding) to keep an employee than having to recruit and hire a new one.

Here are 3 questions that might be important to ask yourself as employees start coming back to the office:

What does your work/team environment look like right now and how are your people feeling?

As a coach I see the employee’s side of the equation and I hear daily about the harmful ways that some leaders are still treating their team members. Some environments are downright toxic, hierarchal or non-inclusive. Or perhaps some leaders have just lost their way because of the demands placed on them this last year and a reset is needed.

Because of the pandemic I believe that employees are realizing that life is too short to either not do what they love or to put up with a bad boss or bad working environment. People have had time to sit back and reevaluate their priorities and how their work should fit in the new ‘life’ paradigm that has been created by the pandemic. A bad, uncaring, or even neutral environment or boss will only make them leave quicker. Sadly, most employees only want to be valued and appreciated – two things that are free and easy to give, yet seem to be obviously lacking in a lot of cases.  How can you really understand what your employees are feeling about their team, you as the leader and your organization so you can make the changes necessary? Asking them might be a good start, and making sure you really listen to the answers and act on them if you can.

Can you reimagine your work to better match your team’s new expectations?

While most leaders do try to do a good job, they may not realize, in their efforts to get the job done, the effect they may be having on their employees and their work. And it has all been made worse by the stress and burnout everyone has been subjected to this past year. So this ‘return to office’ period, even if it’s a hybrid model, is an opportunity to look at what works for your teams has been like and see if there might be room for improvement – or an opportunity to ‘pivot’, because we all love that word. (And even if you’re already back in the office, it wouldn’t hurt to look again at your employees and see what changes might be necessary). Trust your people, (they have proved their worthiness since this whole thing started) and get them to help you recreate what this return to office model should look like. Let them help you reimagine or reengineer an environment or structure that works for everyone. And get them to suggest ways to measure and monitor to see (and make sure) it is working.

If you don’t have systems in place to check in and review with the team on an ongoing basis, how they are feeling about themselves and their work, this is a great time to get them to help you set that up. That will help you know early on when people are unhappy, want more from the workplace, or are getting ready to leave.

How do your employee’s mental health issues play into this?

As a leader, it’s important to search out and understand those team members that have gone beyond just normal stress – those who are grieving or struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health needs. How can you help them work through their issues or get the help they require?

Who thought we’d ever had to deal with loneliness as an issue with our teams at work? But it is on the rise and it is dangerous for our health. How can you engineer connections and relationships at work, even with a hybrid model? Perhaps by having people in the office at the same time so they can start to redevelop those interpersonal relationships again? Or more intentional targeted zoom meetings where people can really connect.  Many people who started new jobs during the pandemic have never met their colleagues which can also make it easier for people to leave.  It’s amazing what an intentional face-to-face meeting can do to foster relationships and teamwork. And not just meetings for meeting’s sake but designed to do that fostering. For sure during this isolation, it has been hard to get a sense of what people are really feeling if everything’s been done on zoom. What format, style, or interaction would work best for you and your employees so that your meetings and work-life can be more meaningful?

Speaking openly about mental health is also important. The more vulnerable you are as a leader may help your employees open up and share too – and be a part of the solution. What do they most need right now that you can help them with to ease that anxiety and stress?

They say that our brains aren’t wired for this much uncertainty so it’s no wonder that we have had such a difficult time since the pandemic started. Just know that as a leader you have an opportunity to make a real difference in your employees’ lives in the midst of all this uncertainty.  Sr. leaders should give their front-line managers the autonomy to make changes so they in turn can keep their employees.  What if your competitors are more flexible with their work practices than you are?

We don’t have to go back to the old ways, as a leader you have a chance to make permanent improvements for the better for both your employees and your organization. Before the next person walks out the door.


Kathy Parks

Career & Leadership Coach
kathy@KPCoaching.com
www.KPCoaching.com

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