Despite the continued rise in coronavirus cases across the country, many companies are opening up and employees are returning to the office. Unfortunately, many employers are treating the past few months as if they were a vacation, not a highly stressful and unprecedented time.
Just because your employees could skip their commutes and work from home doesn’t mean they’re feeling refreshed and excited to return to the office. Many still have elevated anxiety, depression, and other worries because of the pandemic.
The first half of 2020 has been incredibly difficult for most people, and businesses may notice signs of burnout and emotional distress as employees begin working in the office again.
As an employer, you need to consider the best strategies for easing your staff back into work. Consider the steps below to help your team members grieve and move forward following the coronavirus pandemic.
Understand the Emotional State of Your Employees
You may be tempted to operate with a “business-as-usual” mentality to catch up on lost work and win back clients. It’s understandable to want to return to normal as soon as possible. However, your employees need to process what their lives have been like for the past few months and grieve what they have lost.
“As people go back to work, or as those who’ve stayed on the job through the crisis begin to interact with returning workers, many will still be grieving,” David Kessler writes at the Harvard Business Review. “If people seem unusually angry, we should give them space and exercise patience. They are grieving. Someone who questions the pandemic statistics may be in denial—and grieving.”
Remember, not all grief is caused by COVID-19 deaths. Weddings were canceled, children were born without large families around to welcome them, travel was postponed, and even major purchases like the buying of a house were delayed due to decreased income. Almost everyone is grieving something they lost in some way—something that may seem trivial to you but is significant to them.
Identify the Signs of Employee Burnout
Employee burnout comes in many different forms. Some employees might struggle with deadlines or push back on work requests, while other team members might come in late or take more days off. Identifying the different signs of burnout can help you to understand the mental state of your team:
- Employees may complain of headaches and exhaustion. They may also change their eating habits.
- Team members may become more irritable and less willing to work with others on a team.
- Employees may communicate less and volunteer for less work. The work they do may suffer in quality.
- They may become more cynical and detached, assuming negative outcomes and giving up on projects because of the amount of effort they require.
Remember: an employee who is feeling burned out isn’t likely to quit—especially not as unemployment numbers soar. Instead, they will disengage from their work, only doing the bare minimum to get by. As an employer, you need to engage your team members to bring them back into company culture and raise your collective productivity levels.
Develop More Flexibility
Understanding why your employees are burnt out is a major step toward overcoming their frustration and exhaustion. When you view your operations through the lens of someone who is grieving and anxious, you can then take the necessary steps to accommodate your team members.
Review your practices and try to be flexible with your employees. While their work lives may be returning to “normal,” the lives of their kids and spouses may still be in upheaval. Offering flexible hours and remote work options can help you to accommodate your workers who still have to care for these family members.
Additionally, be mindful of your employees’ workloads. Overloading them too early can worsen burnout as they try to process post-pandemic changes while resuming their work routines.
Finally, avoid too much change—including promotions, team changes, and adjustments to workflow. According to a study from the American Psychological Association (APA), employees impacted by change are more than twice as likely to suffer from chronic stress. They’re also more likely to have physical health ailments. COVID-19 brought change to all of our lives, so it’s highly likely that all your employees are experiencing these issues to some degree.
It’s understandable that you want to restore the profits of your company to pre-pandemic levels. However, this will take time. Stressing out your employees and avoiding flexibility can actually limit your ability to rebound.
Everyone Is Learning How to Cope
Even the most prepared companies in the world don’t have a blueprint for dealing with employees post-pandemic. We’re all figuring out a way forward as best as possible while accommodating personal needs.
You will inevitably make mistakes in your management plans as you reopen your business. However, if you’re willing to learn and be flexible, you can help your employees to work through their burnout and return to their normal selves.