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Why Don’t American Workers Want To Go Back To Their Offices?

How has COVID-19 impacted the way workers feel about their workplace?

iStock:RichVintage
iStock:RichVintage

New research suggests that only 21.6% of American workers feel positive about heading back to their offices as workplaces begin to re-open across the country.  Citing fear for their health due to COVID-19, and the newly-discovered flexibility working from home can bring, the study conducted by The Wellbeing Lab and George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing of 1,000 workers representative of the US workforce right now, suggests that re-engaging workers in offices could be challenging.

With 85% of workers reporting that they feel worried or anxious about catching COVD-19, and 75.6% saying they feel unclear what actions they should be taking to manage this risk, workplaces need to be opening up conversations with their workers about what actions can be taken at an organizational, team, and individual level until a vaccine is available.  For example, Google and Facebook have responded by allowing their workers to continue working from home until the end of the year.

While this seems logical, if the option is available to workplaces, the data gathered also found that workers who had been back to their workplaces often over the past few months were significantly more likely to feel positive about returning to work (59.2%).  This suggests that where safe, opportunities can be created for workers to return periodically.  It is worth workplaces encouraging a mix of working from home and from their work premises. 

Of course, some workplaces have no option but to get workers back to their premises.  Given that the study found that 59.3% of workers, who trusted managers to make sensible decisions about issues that affected their future, felt positive about returning to work, it is essential that managers think about what they can do to improve workers’ confidence that they are committed to caring for their wellbeing.

Given 36.7% of workers reported that they are struggling with their mental health, in addition to providing PPE, checking people’s temperatures, and maintaining physical distance measures, workplaces also need to prioritize the following:

  • Gauging Workers’ Mental Temperature – Understand how workers are feeling about returning to the workplace.  Are they relieved at the idea of getting out of their house, or are they worried about caring for their health and finding new ways of safely working together?  Make it safe for workers to speak openly and honestly about their concerns and their hopes for creating new norms around working safely and productively together.  Think about and discuss “graded” returns to work, where possible.
  • Offering Free Wellbeing Testing – Encourage your workers to measure their wellbeing, so they understand what’s working, where they’re struggling, and what they want to prioritize when it comes to caring for their mental, social, and physical wellbeing.  Free tools like the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey (www.permahsurvey.com) provide confidential testing in just five minutes.
  • Recognizing The Symptoms Of Struggle Educate your workers, so they know that feelings of stress and struggle are not signs that their wellbeing is breaking, but rather a reflection of internal and external challenges.  Some struggles are within a person’s control; others are not.  Make it safe to talk about the struggles that people are experiencing.  For struggles that can be controlled, help workers identify actions they can take to address concerns.  Consider whether adjustments can be made in the workplace to support people well.  And for struggles that cannot be controlled, encourage workers to practise self-compassion, and compassion towards each other, as they adjust to the ongoing uncertainty and changes required of them.
  • Encouraging Personal Wellbeing Practices – Give your workers access to short, simple, wellbeing training sessions, and small-group coaching check-ins that put simple, evidence-based, daily practices to care for their wellbeing at their fingertips. Help workers to support and celebrate each other’s efforts as they prioritize caring for their mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Recommending A Daily Dose of Leader Care – Teach leaders the skills to genuinely connect and coach their people through this challenging time.  Encourageleaders to deliver daily doses of care, compassion, and appreciation for their team members.  Help your leaders understand that it is more important to care for workers’ wellbeing than to manage performance during this time.
  • Planning Regular Staff Check-Ups – Invite your people to provide feedback and feed-forward in their teams and across your workplace, to continue co-creating a new working reality as circumstances continue to unfold.

Not only will these steps help workers more successfully return to work, they are the neurological and psychological actions that can help your workers to thrive no matter what is happening in your workplace.

How are you helping workers feel confident about returning to your premises?

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