Leadership During Re-entry
It has been thrilling to watch the billionaires battle it out for defining our new frontier of space exploration. Both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos provided exciting coverage of launch, short trips into space, and a smooth re-entry. I have been speaking with clients who are focused on a different kind of reentry; the decision to bring employees back into the office. I have been struck by both the challenges faced and creative options identified by executives.
Employees have enjoyed the freedom of not commuting, casual dress, taking time to actually enjoy lunch, and having a better work-life balance. There’s no going back to work before the pandemic, but rather, defining a new type of “normal.” Let’s look at how organizations and leaders can respond to minimize employee concerns about reentry.
Defining reentry. One client has made a bold statement, much like Apple before the recent resurgence, that due to the impact on the culture, he wants to bring everyone back into the office in September. Another executive is defining a hybrid approach where employees can work certain days or certain time blocks so there is flexibility while the business is not impacted. Another company has designated what type of meetings or events should be held face-to-face, such as performance reviews, and requesting about 10 days in the office per month. In the early days of the pandemic, one organization offered wristbands, colored green, yellow, or red. When employees entered in the morning they could select a wristband that illustrated their desire to personally interact with others that day.
Leadership during reentry. Beyond the logistical planning and hygiene concerns, leaders need to focus on supporting the mental health of returning employees. One leader shared that when employees were returning to the office, one of his managers came back in and immediately fell to the floor weeping. The enormity of what she had experienced during the last year was overwhelming. This is an extreme example but there is no accounting for the enormity of what employees have experienced. How can you help your employees manage their reentry anxiety?
1. Research options for supporting mental health, such as your EAP policy. Communicate these options during staff meetings and describe how employees can access these resources. Don’t be afraid to be the connector.
2. Check in often. Ask employees how they are doing, how their family is doing, and how comfortable they are feeling about reentry.
3. Demonstrate empathy. Respond to concerns by sharing the fact and feeling the employee is displaying. For example, “Sounds like you are concerned about attending large group meetings.”
4. Reiterate the hygiene protocol that your organization is using.
5. Be creative. What worked yesterday may not work today. How can employees feel more in control of their work environment?
6. Mark reentry with a ritual. What is a timeframe for pivoting from the past to the future? Provide a “welcome back” toolkit for employees.
At a minimum, check in more frequently with employees and demonstrate empathy and compassion for concerns about reentry. Communicate “safety first.”
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