With post-COVID recovery comes a new challenge facing some employers: how to get valued people back at their desks?
The problem is not straightforward but multi-layered. While some unemployed appear to be timing enhanced benefit check extensions, many have no childcare. Others, working remotely, seem to suffer from pandemic-related Stockholm Syndrome and feel safer at home. Meanwhile, employers struggle to get bodies in their chairs, not helped by the loud chorus of voices on the internet calling for a new revolution in telecommuting! The conventional office-centric workstyle seems yet another victim of the COVID pandemic.
But there are choices employers have to get people back in the office, including the nuclear option of termination. Yet, what is some more thoughtful approaches to breaking through return-to-work resistance?
Understand that human behavior has changed because of the pandemic. Never have employers and employees faced such world-altering disorders in their work, social, economic, and market environments. Rehabilitating operations and figuring out how to ramp up productivity has been job one for business owners. It might seem intuitive that loyal employees would share your goals and be excited to jump back in and help. And many are. But for those in difficult circumstances, pleading, bribing, or browbeating isn’t likely to work.
First, talk with employees individually. Take some time to understand their situation, mindset, and even where skills and capabilities might have changed. Ask, what are the barriers preventing you from coming back to work? If someone fears getting sick, make sure that cleaning and infection control plans are crystal clear. If it is a childcare, disability, or family leave situation, state and federal laws may apply, so work with the individual circumstance. Next, if the person simply refuses to return without explanation, your employee handbook should cover this under ‘voluntary separation.’ You may also have to file a formal report to the unemployment department. Above all, your approach should value the individual and express empathy and support while also caring for the organization’s needs.
Trends are contagious, but so are enthusiastic advocates. Driven by necessity, telecommuting went viral, and now, 65% of workers report preferring to work from home (Flexjobs, 2020). The problem is that some companies not set up to do distance work are bleeding money because of lost productivity. Unless you are Twitter, which can “let some employees work from home ‘forever‘,'” you may feel your approach needs to be more direct: “Return to work by June 30!”
Rather than issuing an edict, smooth the transition by using the right messenger to deliver the return-to-work plan. Compelling messaging by a respected team leader or manager can be infectious to high-caliber people who want to join an exciting project, advance a new strategic goal, or work together to hit high-impact targets for the company’s good. Enthusiasm is contagious, and belonging is a basic human instinct. Use your influencers to leverage both by creating an in-house environment that reminds your staff why working collaboratively face-to-face is so rewarding.
Accept the new paradigm shift and adapt. The flexible work concept was forced on many employers by the pandemic, but the reality is that it was a trend waiting to happen. In a piece on Top Workplace Trends for 2019, SHRM listed flexible work schedules as the second of ten top trends. PwC, a global consulting firm, surveyed 50 executives and 144 employees in 2020 and found that 69% of employers expect that three-fifths of their workers will telecommute at least once a week, with 61% making it permanent for some roles (Remote Work Survey, 2020). Majorities in both Millennial and Gen Z groups seek a transformation in how work gets done, with work-life balance and flexible scheduling ranking highly after salary and benefits (Randstad, 2020).
If it fits your organizational framework in the future, get people in with a promise of a formalized, flexible work plan as part of their performance bonus. Employees that showed high levels of productivity while telecommuting could continue two days a week. Others would need to verify the ability to work independently and without supervision. In reality, the issue is access and trust, but research has shown that a choice of work environment actually increasesproductivity for most employees. An added benefit to the firm is the cost savings and higher retention for allowing people to telecommute!
Upskilling – the perk that keeps on giving! Finally, after a long pause, there has never been more need for reskilling and training. We know it’s a top benefit sought by 74% of workers, and 91% of companies agreed that upskilling boosted productivity. Therefore, consider making it part of your back-to-work plan. For example, one national medical company recently got everyone back in the office by offering enhanced skills training online in teams, but accessible only on-site. It softened the transition, got people used to working together again, and improved performance at the same time.
If you struggle to get people back to work or need to hire new talent, Partnership Employment‘s decades of staffing experience can help. If you need temporary services, let Partnership Employment source highly motivated and skilled workers willing to invest their skills and abilities in your company. Contact Partnership Employment today!