As we welcome more staff back to the office, this milestone has generated a range of emotions.
For some, working in the office and interacting with coworkers and clients can be frightening and stressful. These feelings may be due to an underlying medical condition that can increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, concern that they may inadvertently pass the virus to a vulnerable or older family member residing in their household, worries that coworkers and clients will not be vigilant about adhering to prevention guidelines, or unease about moving forward too fast in the absence of a vaccine or a specific antiviral medicine to treat Coronavirus. These concerns can impact an employee’s willingness to participate in the workplace, interfere with coworker and client relationships, and have a negative effect on performance.
At the other end of the spectrum are employees who are more relaxed---and perhaps even eager---to get back to business. Some are tired of sheltering at home, others want a semblance of normalcy, and others may even question the virus’ virulence. When employees hold such diverse attitudes, managers should not judge. Instead, listening, understanding, and demonstrating that the practice cares about their well-being is essential.
Before the office is fully staffed, it can be enlightening to talk to them or survey their comfort-level about working in the office. Guidance for assuring the safety of clients and employees is available through OSHA (osha.gov), the CDC (cdc.gov,) and local state/county orders as well as other sources. Employees should be aware of the procedures that are being followed to protect their health and safety. Conversations with employees will reveal additional concerns and possibly point to actions employers can take to ease their minds. Not all requests may be reasonable, but even acquiescing to minor requests can improve an employee’s state of mind.
Managers who must mediate the concerns of employees who demand strict adherence to recommended protocols or required protocols and employees who do not see the need, are placed in a difficult position. Appealing to employees to act responsibly and take actions to protect others for the collective good is critical.
A commitment to full disclosure and transparency
In this time of uncertainty, we are all hungry for specific, detailed information. Be sure that you are thoroughly communicating all information to your employees. I am sure you are cleaning and disinfecting the office on a regular schedule. Let your employees know which protocols you are following, how often disinfecting is scheduled throughout the day, when will the office receive a deep cleaning, what products will be used, and who is responsible. This is good, solid information that can clear up uncertainty and anxiety.
I came across a hotel website that caught my attention. The hotel advertised its cleaning protocol partnership with a well-known brand of disinfectant and a world-renowned medical facility that provided consulting services. The site also listed information about other efforts that would be undertaken. After skimming the information, I felt that with these safeguards in place, I could stay there.
In addition to these efforts, we must be proactive about mental health. We work in an industry that does not make it easy for our workforce to work remotely. We need our staff in the office. There will be some employees who cannot come to terms with ever returning to the office. They will move on and we will wish them well. There are also those who love their jobs, their colleagues, clients, and practices and despite their apprehensions, will come back. Now is the time to be proactive about providing mental health services such as counseling, support, and performance coaching. If these services are already in place, be sure to be aggressive about reminding employees they are available. If they are not available, start to investigate options for the future.
This situation is new to all of us. We will struggle, we may stumble, but we will confront and respond to these challenges. VHMA continues to explore resources and tools that will help managers address the impact of the pandemic. Please feel free to contact me should you have suggestions for topics the association might address as we continue onward.
The world is changing and in order to grow and develop, we must be prepared to let our old responses go and adapt to the new reality.
My best to all. Stay well. Stay safe.
Michelle Gonzales-Bryant, CVPM