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The Great Return To Work – or Not?

3 December 2021

So…deep intake of breath, yes we’re going there. How is it all going for your business with employees returning to the workplace? Is it all seamlessly back to normal or are you considering how best to navigate the new normal for your employees. Whichever ways of working your business has adopted or is considering as part of the great return to work, we hope it is all going well.

The ease at which your employees transition back into the workplace and into new ways of working will depend on them – and the business. This is a tricky time where managers should be making an effort to understand how employees are coping with the new normal. What are their preferences for any new ways of working and how can the business meet their needs?

Opening up this type of conversation will be time well spent in terms of maintaining employee loyalty, engagement and motivation going forward. This is not about giving unrealistic expectations, businesses are being judged on how they are managing these times, so how do you retain your employees? Talk to them. Ask them about what is working well, what their working preferences are. Do they have any fears or concerns or what could be done better? This type of conversation will help employees feel valued and discussing what’s important for them as individuals will be a beneficial insight for the business.

Remember right now your employees are weary. Most of us are tired at the end of a normal working year, however 2021 has been another exceptional year in terms of draining every last ounce of energy from employees. Pandemic coping work strategies, home and work lives colliding on various dining room tables (bedrooms, worktops, sofas), the additional workload of covering for sick or isolating colleagues, to the horror of home-schooling or perhaps the sheer isolation of being cooped up in a one bed flat has all taken a toll. Every one of your employees is a survivor emerging from the pandemic with their own experiences, stress buckets, anxieties and weariness. Any opportunity to talk to a trusted colleague or manager, to offload any worries at work will be beneficial and help overcome any ongoing anxieties about their return to work. Listen to employees and understand what and where their worries are. A little goes a long way in terms of wellbeing making employees feel valued and ‘safe’ in all aspects of the word.

Right now, people have changed. Some are taking time to reflect on their working lives and are taking decisions they might not have before about what they want from their working lives and new routines. Some will have been reminded that life is indeed too short to be unhappy in a job or not have the work life balance they desire. People have started to move around in the employment market away from old working routines and The Great Resignation is now a thing. There’s also the conversation of a 4-day working week (for 5 day’s pay) which is causing some excitement, although the proposed workings of this remain to be seen.

Businesses have to be aware and do what is best for them and their employees at this time. The term ‘post pandemic’ might be a bit premature as we’re not out of the woods yet. The new Covid variant Omicron has just hit the UK, bringing with it more uncertainty just when life had started to happen again for most.

We understand that trying to make informed decisions in such an ongoing uncertain environment is hard, however if you are looking to retain employees’ vital knowledge and skills, you might want to:

  • actively engage with employees, listen to them and understand preferences
  • show patience as everyone adapts to their new normal
  • take time to rebuild working relationships, not everyone will want to be there
  • understand that new levels of anxiety may prevent this from happening easily

Other tips from us:

  • Covid fatigue is real, ensure workload is managed properly
  • Be clear about the work environment hygiene rules – masks, social distancing, sanitizer, no hugging, handshakes etc.
  • Refresh the business Wellbeing policy or get one! (We can help you with this)
  • Encourage employees to look after themselves – live well, sleep well, switch off from work after hours, relaxation techniques etc.
  • Keep abreast of ongoing Covid developments, who knows what changes the new variant will bring for businesses

Align People HR are here to help you manage the significant changes going on in working environments. We can help you plan how to connect with your employees, develop a Wellbeing policy or introduce new hybrid working or flexible working arrangements. Give us a call!

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