With the recent easing of movement control restrictions, many workplaces are beginning to bring employees back in under gradual return to work processes. The return to work, after what many have deemed a collective traumatic experience, may require extra attention by managers and supervisors given that many employees may face difficulties in refocusing during this time.
Previous research has shown that employees typically have a hard time adjusting to the resumption of work because they find it hard to get back to usual work schedules and routines, face issues with reconnecting with colleagues, have to acclimatise to the shift in work-life balance, and have difficulty finding their place again within the organisational culture. On top of these issues, the Covid-19 work environment places extra stress on employee readjustment with the introduction of new hygiene SOPs, disruption to the conventional office workflow, and perhaps even employee displacement within the workplace.
Managers and supervisors play an important role in assisting the adjustment process. Here are three easy things to keep in mind when helping your employees adjust to the ‘new normal’.
1. Be communicative.
In return to work situations following a traumatic or disruptive event, employees found that a lack of communication from managerial figures added to their anxiety. Not only were they unsure of what to do, rumours would naturally proliferate. Providing timely and responsive updates about the current work situation instilled a sense of security among employees and helped to reduce their emotional distress. In addition, managers who encouraged employee feedback on the return to work process fostered a sense of trust.
2. Be credible.
Fake news and false statements populate much of social media and can colour an employee’s perceptions of the current situation. Disseminating consistent information from credible sources helps to establish the manager as a reputable source which enhances trust in the manager-employee relationship. Qualifying and acknowledging the limits of available information in addition to conveying timelines of future communications also promote the manager’s credibility.
"...employees turn to managers and supervisors to be a stabilising force and a source of support in turbulent times"
3. Be compassionate.
The ‘new normal’ brought upon by Covid-19 has come with uncertainty, risk, and distress. Employees may perceive the return to work as a risky process due to the uncertainty of infection and perceptions of vulnerability to the illness. Although productivity is still a point of focus for an organisation, managers who strive to be understanding and flexible tend to be perceived as altruistic by employees. Balancing employee and organisational needs is no easy feat, but some helpful things to do are to maintain a visible presence among employees, monitor employee needs while focusing on productivity, develop contingencies while following established plans, and be flexible when needed.
To sum up, employees turn to managers and supervisors to be a stabilising force and a source of support in turbulent times. By being communicative, credible, and compassionate, managers can enhance their relationships with their employees to foster a greater sense of organisational community and productivity moving forward.
Sousa, C. & Gonçalves, G. (2019). Back to work bang! Difficulties, emotions and adjustment strategies when returning to work after a vacation. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2019.1602784.
North, C. S., Pfefferbaum, B., Hong, B. A., Gordon, M. R., Kim, Y.-S., Lind, L., & Pollio, D. E. (2010). The business of healing: Focus group discussions of readjustment to the post-9/11 work environment among employees of affected agencies. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(7), 713-718. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e3181e48b01.