Homecoming after COVID – The keys to successful employee re-entry
Covid-19 and the restrictions on gatherings in the workplace and elsewhere have had a profound effect on a company’s relations with its employees, and on the employees’ interactions with one another.
Almost all offices have been physically closed as employees have been working remotely. In my coaching practice, however, I have observed that as a result of Covid-19, many employees have experienced feelings of isolation and detachment. They have been deprived of the close mentorship that most younger employees desire. Opportunities for professional growth and advancement have been stymied by the prolonged restrictions. Even with the availability of the Moderna, Pfizer and J & J Covid-19 vaccines, many of my clients believe there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. This is especially true because of the Covid-19 variants like variant B.1.1.7 that are springing up. And herd immunity to Covid-19 appears to be a long way off.
Yet, there will come a time when offices start opening and when a company’s or firm’s employees start returning. Now is the time for business leaders and managers to develop strategies to return to normalcy once the workplace is up and running again.
Of course businesses still will be required to maintain important safety measures that may include masking, social distancing, temperature checks, enforced quarantining when exposed to a Covid-infected person, limiting the sharing of objects such as phones and keyboards, following sanitizing procedures and so on. But apart from these safety procedures there are other employee-relations steps a business should follow.
For many businesses the mentoring of younger employees has been stymied. While Zoom may provide some opportunities for mentoring, it is not a substitute for in-person sessions where both the mentor and mentee can more easily chat and observe the reactions of each other. Clients of mine who have been mentored remotely have stated that there is no substitute for regular face-to-face interactions in the workplace.
Thus as soon as possible, businesses should resume the mentoring of younger employees on a stepped-up basis to make up for the year-plus that may have been lost. Be ready to schedule regular sessions between the mentor and mentee which, in my view, should be every two weeks (or more frequently) following the reopening of the workplace.
One suggestion is that at the outset of the revived mentorship, the mentor ask the employee what they missed while working remotely and how the employee envisions the mentorship relationship as it resumes. In my experience a mentor maximizes their value when they understand what the employee thinks he or she wants from the relationship. This inquiry will also cause the mentee to feel valued. Some of my clients have expressed they haven’t felt valued during the past year and an effective mentor can remedy this.
Business should now prepare for the post-Covid world by planning a mentor-mentee relationship for every employee. In fact, if possible, the mentorship can begin remotely, on a regular basis, until in-person sessions are feasible.
Prior to Covid, many employees were considering how to advance their careers in their current companies, assume greater responsibilities, and/or prospects for jobs elsewhere. Perhaps they even had timetables for advancement. For example, “In two years I want to become a group manager. In five years I want to move to the front office.”
Business leaders should understand that for many employees seeking advancement, their plans may have been derailed or postponed by the Covid pandemic. This may have an adverse effect on the morale of these employees and it could also affect their job performance.
As a result, the business leader should meet with these employees to reassure them that they still have opportunities to advance through promotions and/or an increase in their job responsibilities. It may even be possible to set forth a timetable for the employee with benchmarks for their career advancement.
The bottom line is that for many employees the Covid pandemic may have sacked their morale and possibly their self-esteem. An effective leader or manager should recognize this. Smart proactive action will inevitably result in a more effective employee who will grow in the value that he/she contributes to the business.
Most if not all employees have suffered during the Covid pandemic and the isolation from their workmates that resulted. They may have experienced a variety of fears and insecurities. Many may feel their world has been turned upside down. For some they may no longer feel like a valued team member. I have observed this many of my coaching clients.
It is important that employees not think that they are the only ones with these feelings. Many of their co-workers might have similar feelings. Employees should be encouraged to speak with other employees to share their thoughts and feelings about the past year, and the isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Employers should publicly validate the fears and anxieties of their employees and make sure their employees have ample opportunities to spend time together among themselves where they can discuss their experiences over the past year. This can be in the lunchroom, in a conference room with lunch being provided, or after business hours although for some this may not be convenient.
Employers should be patient with these employees as they want to share their experiences and feelings, and encourage them to convene either as a group or one-on-one to accelerate their rebonding with one another. This will foster a “team environment” that may have been eviscerated by the pandemic.
Now is the time to plan!
Hopefully our workplaces will soon begin to reopen and, to some extent, conduct business as usual. It will not be possible for employers and employees to pick up on day 1 as though nothing had happened. Everyone – including leaders, managers and other employees – will experience periods of adjustment. The steps outlined above will help your employees – and, ultimately, your company – through this period of adjustment.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. Make sure your company is not left in the dark.
This article sets forth some way stations along the roadmap to workplace normalcy. It is a GPS for welcoming your employees back to the office.
Are you ready for the challenge? Are you ready to work with your employees to help them to resume their careers and achieve their goals? Are you ready to embrace a post-pandemic workplace? If the answers to these questions are yes, start planning today. Without a plan your business will experience post-Covid chaos!
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