Employees Have Concerns About the Return to Work. Are Managers Prepared to Hear Them?

Businesses everywhere are reopening their doors and inviting customers in again. Even those companies that carried on business while their people worked from home are also feeling a renewed energy and collective uplifting of spirits.

Even as the economy stumbles back on track, people everywhere are holding their breath, wondering what going back to work will really mean to them and to their health.

A friend asked for my advice on how to handle the issue (yes, issue) with his employer. After being laid off from his retail job for two months, he was anxious to get back to full salary. In spite of that, he was nervous about being back in public, facing customers and his team, and having to deal with potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus on the sales floor.

I get that… but I get the company’s side too. And I get his boss’ side.

In this time of so much anxiety and confusion (what is the right thing to do—reopen or not? Go to work or not?) managers have to be considerate of their team members’ concerns and feelings. Understandably, people will be trepidatious about returning to work. Yet, they also have financial and mental health (loneliness, disconnection) concerns which could be alleviated, in no small part, by returning to work. And, let's not forget, business needs to be done and the world seems ready for it.

A great many knowledge workers have been working remotely since mid-March. They’ve grown to like working from home and have found their productivity has increased greatly. They’ve also experienced the added benefits of improved work/life balance and not having to commute to work. Nearly 43% of full-time American workers say they want to continue working remotely after it’s deemed safe to do so. However, most of these same workers are pessimistic about their companies allowing this to continue. Why? I’m sure there are many reasons, like companies don’t want to keep paying for empty facilities, but I bet the chief reason is trust. Trust and consideration are good friends. Companies need to trust their people are doing the work (but shouldn’t deliverables demonstrate that?) and employees need to trust their employers are going to take care of their physical and mental concerns about work. The question is, what precautions has the company put in place to protect their employees? What consideration have they given to employee concerns?