Employee Relations

Employee concerns with the return to work

person wearing face mask in the office

As lockdown restrictions ease and employees begin their return to work, employers are facing a new wave of challenges. You see, the COVID-19 lockdown has created a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt, about what work life will look like after coronavirus lockdown.

If you want, you can stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, and pretend that your employees don’t have any concerns. You can pretend that your entire workforce will return to their desks quietly, happily, and full of beans. And maybe some of them will.

But if you want to help employees manage this transition more easily, then read on. Because I’ve been speaking to employers who have spent time interviewing and surveying their workforces, about the sorts of concerns they have with the post-lockdown return to work.

Some people are concerned that they will return to work and then lose their job

One of the biggest concerns employees seem to have about their return to work, is the security of the job they will be returning to. With unemployment expected to rise from 3.9% to 20%, there is no wonder employees are worried about how much longer their job might last.

“Some employees are concerned with the future of their jobs and their employer” says Terry Wilson, Senior HR consultant at Strategic HR Inc. “A question they’re asking is ‘should I be using my time to look for another job rather than returning to work?’”

Terry says that managers need to share plans for ramping up the business with employees. Even if that progression will be slow, and may mean fewer hours of work or no overtime.

Employees worry they will be expected to instantly pick up a heavier workload

One common concern was picked up in a survey of over 2,000 UK employees in the software sector. And this was the concern that employers might not realise the strain lockdown had put onto employee mental health.

Employees were concerned that workloads might suddenly be stepped up beyond their ability to cope. Not only did employees report that they were concerned there would be no phased return to the normal routine, but also that employers would expect them to pick up extra workloads – slack left over from lockdown – but without extra time or resources.

I don’t think this concern is simply a symptom of lazy employees who have got used to the lockdown lifestyle. After all, with schooling, work, and caring for the vulnerable, many people are busier now than they’ve ever been. One way to counteract this employee concern is by introducing a compassionate leave policy that allows employees to take time off when they need it most.

But I do feel like it’s important to keep your eye on the mental health and wellbeing of your workforce, especially during the tender few months when life begins to re-adjust once more.

Many workers question whether it is safe to return to work yet

I’ve spoken to a number of employers who say that employees remain very worried about how safe it will be to return to work. After all, it’s one thing to be allowed by law to return to work. But it’s another to know that you won’t be putting yourself or your family at risk.

“My team asked if they have the option to file for indefinite leave, at least until authorities guarantee safety from the pandemic” says Jared Ebrahimoff, Founder & COO of Lavari Jewelers. “If that was not possible, most of them wanted the opportunity to work from home to safeguard their health against COVID-19. After all, our company adapted to remote working as part of the preventative measures.”

Jared has decided that their company will continue to work remotely until the threat to employee safety has gone. However, not all employers have this option at their disposal – and if you run a business that cannot operate remotely, this particular employee concern may present you with challenges.

Many concerns relate to social distancing

We are all familiar with the phrase ‘social distancing’. It has been one of the most repeated phrases during COVID-19 lockdown, and with good reason.

So it’s no surprise that when Robert Half surveyed more than 1,000 office professionals about how they feel office life will change once workplaces re-open, many of their concerns had the common theme of close contact.

  •  Being in close proximity to others (56%)
  •  Travel for business (57%)
  •  Attending in-person business events (59%)
  •  Shaking hands (72%)

What employees expect when they return

Robert Half asked the same group about what they expected from their employer once they return to work. The most popular responses were as follows:

More opportunities to work from home (79%)

  •  Better cleaning procedures (79%)
  •  Fewer in-person meetings (70%)
  •  Staggered work schedules (55%)
  •  Mandatory face masks (52%)
  •  An adapted office layout (46%)

Of course, just because a survey says that this is what a lot of employees want, does not mean it’s a rule you should follow as industry best practice. I don’t know the answer to how best you should support your employees during their return to work, and I wouldn’t want to guess.

But hopefully, by looking at what employees around the world are concerned about right now, and by examining what they are expecting from their respective employers, you will be able to work out how best to support your own workforce with their return to work.