Five Ways to Ease Employee Anxiety About Returning to a Post-COVID-19 Workplace

Five Ways to Ease Employee Anxiety About Returning to a Post-COVID-19 Workplace

By Tricia O'Connor

The workplace you left will not be the same when you come back. Sure, the physical structure will still be there, but the environment, policies, procedures will undoubtedly be different. If this hasn’t already caused employees anxiety, the reality of these looming changes will hit sometime soon as more organizations announce return-to-work dates.

Re-opening your doors will not mean business as usual for employers or employees. Businesses should take time to understand what alterations you need to make and start preparing so you remain transparent with employees and stay in compliance with legal regulations.

Here are five key issues you can address now to ease employees’ anxiety later.

1. Workplace Safety

Employees are scared of returning to work. For weeks they’ve been hearing about the dangers of COVID-19, how quickly it can spread, why people should practice social distancing, and the near-constant updates on the tragic death toll. Creating a thoughtful, comprehensive safety plan that considers employees’ fears of contracting the coronavirus and provides equipment and cleaning procedures to allay those anxieties is a top priority. Employees may feel less stressed knowing there are new procedures already in place before coming back to work, and that sense of being protected may boost feelings of loyalty for you – their employer.

Here are some safety measures you might take:

Ensure your safety plan can be enacted and implemented when employees come back. Employees may be disappointed if they’re assured their safety is a priority, only to find the new measures aren’t sustainable.

2. Communications

Employees don’t want any more surprises. They’ve dealt with enough shocking changes. Employees need clear and timely communications about the steps your company is taking for re-entry sent ahead of time that outline how the process will unfold. Knowing how a new process will be implemented eases anxiety. These types of communications are best delivered in writing and employees should be given opportunities to discuss the plan with their supervisor and have any lingering questions answered.

Here are some topics to consider:

  • New policies in effect
  • How they will be implemented and monitored
  • Training opportunities or requirements

If warranted, you may also need to have a media toolkit prepared to respond to any media inquiries as employees return to work or in the instance of an exposure event.

3. Logistics

Two points of concern for returning employees swirl around recall and exposure procedures. Namely, employees are worried there will be an overwhelming and dangerous rush of workers returning to the workplace which will increase their chances of exposure. If an exposure event happens, what measures will be in place to protect the remaining workforce?

You can mitigate their fears by organizing a controlled phase-in to recall employees. When EBI deployed its remote workforce at the start of COVID-19, we did so in waves. You can take the same approach as you request employees return to work. This decision not only reassures employees you are keeping them as safe as possible, it also alleviates some of the pressure your IT department may be feeling as it works to restore in-office business operations.

It is also important to define and share with employees the guidelines to prevent an exposure event, and the steps that will be taken if someone is exposed to the coronavirus. These guidelines may include expectations of what employees should do to keep workspaces clean and when and how employees should notify someone if they’re feeling ill. Businesses may also want to share how they will respond to an exposure, including containment and tracking procedures, and how staff will be alerted if an exposure event occurs.

Employees have been facing changes at breakneck speed since the coronavirus pandemic started and fear more change once back at work. Outlining new procedures ahead of time provides employees peace of mind.

“One thing we know about employees is that when expectations are unclear, they have questions. And the longer those questions go unanswered, that causes stress,” says Troy White, founder and consultant at Upstream Growth Consultants, an executive leadership growth organization.

4. Benefits

Many businesses have unfortunately had to lay off or furlough employees. But many of these companies also hope to re-hire or reinstate employees to full-time status. This may affect the benefits employees receive and what actions employers need to take to remain compliant.

Here are the four main areas you’ll want to review:

  • Group health insurance
  • Flexible Spending Accounts
  • 401(k) or pension plans
  • Paid leave

In addition to your own policies, there are federal or state mandates you need to adhere to such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). These have also been evolving throughout the pandemic. It is important for employers to assist their human resources departments as they navigate these regulations, and if necessary, enlist legal counsel to help them stay informed and compliant with their new obligations relating to employee benefits.

Many employers who have implemented compensation changes during this time may also need to re-evaluate the status of those pay cuts. Aside from employees’ personal health and safety, this is most likely their most pressing concern. It will be vital to communicate any updates to affected staff.

5. Resources

As this return-to-work situation evolves, and it will evolve differently for each employer, it’s important to make sure you have resources readily available for your employees. New policies should be updated and visible for all employees. EBI, for example, created an internal COVID-19 Employee Resource Page on our intranet that contains updated information and policy changes on everything from financial assistance to Department of Labor regulations.

“We’re doing our best to keep our employees healthy, safe, and informed, while also minimizing the disruptions to our day-to-day operations,” says Julie Mulhern, Director of Human Resources at EBI.

These policies may include:

  • Paid leave
  • Attendance
  • Travel
  • Telecommuting
  • Health and wellness
  • IT and data security
  • Employee Assistance Programs

It may be useful for the HR department to hold some breakout sessions for newly recalled employees that outline these policy changes and provide immediate support to assist employees with any questions they may have. Delivering these updates through email is a necessary first step, but employers may need to be more proactive in ensuring their employees fully understand these changes.

And One More Thing…  

Businesses will be judged on how they came out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies who are weathering this crisis well are leaning heavily on their Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP. These plans provide guidance on implementing and managing business operations so services can be performed in an emergency event. During this pandemic, though, EBI recognized an immediate need to amend our plan to include pandemic response. We’re pretty sure you might be thinking you need to do the same thing. Here are six considerations to include your pandemic response.

There is no doubt COVID-19 is one of the toughest challenges organizations have ever faced. EBI recognizes the difficulties we’re all facing and is working diligently to provide you the necessary talent acquisition, human resources, and screening information you need. Click here for our full COVID-19 HR Resources page. You can also learn about EBI’s Workplace Health & Safety Solution here.

Get to know EBI and speak with one of our experts.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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