“I’m scared to come back into the office.”
“There is no way I am wearing a mask.”
“How often will workstations be sanitized?”
“This whole pandemic is ridiculous. We never should have shut down in the first place!”
“I’m making more money on unemployment, so I do not plan on returning to the office quite yet.”
Have you heard any of these comments? Planning is taking place throughout American businesses to get things back to “normal.” “Normal,” though, will be anything but normal. Plastic shields, face masks, taping off social distancing reminders are now normal tasks for HR and business leaders. As plans rollout, the workplace will look very different than it did three months ago. As leaders overcome physical obstacles, a greater obstacle will need attention. That obstacle is the psychological mindset of workers across the nation.
What felt like overnight, the safety needs (as defined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) trumped other personal needs (e.g.—self-actualization). According to Maslow, it is almost impossible to move into the higher reaches of his hierarchy (Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization) before first meeting the lower needs (Physiological, Safety). Right now, employers must recognize the psychological challenges many employees face with returning to the workplace. Successful transitioning depends upon ensuring employees both are safe and feel safe. Employers can mandate face masks and have people follow this guidance. Employees, though, may still feel unsafe. Time, ongoing communication, and consistent safety measures will go a long way in winning the psychological battle many employees face.
Employers can purchase equipment, post signs, and hold meetings with little difficulty. This is what good employers will do. The best employers will recognize the psychological battle many employees face and strive hard to address these needs. Here are some recommendations to consider:
1. Form a Committee to Build Your Transition Plan
Employers need to hear from multiple voices. In addition, all businesses need advocates to build the plan, implement it, and help employees address challenges. The more buy-in and opportunities to hear from key employees will go a long way in having a successful plan that helps all employees transition well.
2. Communicate Early and Often
Many companies have already built their plans. It is vital to communicate what has been done, what is being done, and what will be done on a regular basis. Employees need to hear from their leaders often. Emailing a plan to employees and hoping they figure it out will not ease the psychological adjustment many employees will need.
3. Take Time to Listen…REALLY Listen
There may be times where employees need to vent or express concern. When/if struggling employees know that they are heard and respected, bringing up issues as they arise will help in the process of healing.
4. Accommodate Employee Needs That Can Be Accommodated and Provide Reasons When Requests Cannot Be Accommodated
There will be childcare and healthcare issues many employees face. We are far from being done with this pandemic as many employment laws run through December 31, 2020. Not all childcare and healthcare concerns fall within the reaches of the FFCRA’s Paid Leave Provisions. Helping employees balance work-life challenges will go a long way in retaining them. When requests cannot be met, many employees appreciate empathetic feedback and a conversation that may allow for a compromised solution.
5. Be Nimble and Flexible
Governmental guidance, regulations, and legislation will change as we move through this pandemic. Adjusting transition plans to meet these recommendations and requirements will need ongoing discussion, communication, and implementation. Doing this well shows that employers are in touch with reality.
Employers and employees need time to adjust to whatever the “new normal” is. This will take more than hand-sanitizing stations, masks, and hand-washing signs. These are good, but employees need employers, who recognize and support the psychological obstacles many employees face.
Now, put on a mask, sit six feet apart from your team-member, and enjoy being off of a Zoom call!
This series explores HR-related areas needing consideration as leaders deal with the current COVID-19 disruption. Check out parts 1-6:
Hang in there! This will pass! We are in this together!
Need assistance with addressing short and long term HR needs for your business? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will address them proactively.
Disclaimer: This blog is not legal advice, but merely informed opinion or general information meant for no particular purpose. Issues addressed in this blog often implicate federal, state, and local labor and employment laws. This blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers should consult labor and employment counsel to determine whether their particular policies, procedures, decisions, or courses of action comply with such laws.