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Creating a supportive culture for employees returning to the workplace

23 Apr 2021 By Lisa Seagroatt

HR professionals need to remember everyones’ experience of the last year will be different and managers shouldn’t expect too much too soon, says Lisa Seagroatt

If your business had created a healthy culture of high performance working (HPW) during and prior to Covid, there’s no reason why this will not continue into the future. Creating a team of people who are high performing for any business isn’t usually too difficult, but the events of this past year will certainly have put this culture to the test, no matter how great your workplace might be.

There will be many obstacles and hurdles for businesses to overcome during these next few weeks and HR will need to work closely with all stakeholders to ensure that there is a planned and considered ‘return to work roadmap’, which is clearly communicated to everyone and that individual concerns are addressed and not dismissed.

Dismissing concerns creates a culture of fear and worry and such obstacles will make a smooth return to work very difficult to achieve.

Let’s remember that some of us have coped better than others with the restricted way in which we’ve been required to live. And that’s without even thinking about the loss we’ve experienced, one way or another.

Just within my own world, I had to park plans for 10 key birthday celebrations, miss the early days of my new-born twin grandchildren, say an emotional goodbye to a number of people close to me including my former childminder of 10+ years and my incredible 104-year-old aunty. We’ve been separated from friends, family, fun and so many things we love to do; it’s taken its toll on many of us.

And many will be carrying these scars for years to come.

It’s been incredibly hard mentally for us all too and we need to be mindful of this as we start to ask people to come out of their sanctuary and return to work again. It will not be like flicking a switch back on as things we usually do after a break from work (think the long Christmas holidays and the return to work here). It’s going to be odd, challenging and different for everyone. HR professionals included.

Helping people return to work and back to a previous culture of HPW is going to take time and we need to put some measures in place to ensure we don’t go too fast and expect too much too soon. With the end of social distancing forecasted for 21 June, it’s likely that some of us will have a huge mix of emotions to contend with at this point, including fear about the uncertainty of the future as this virus is not going away any time soon.

So, what can we as HR professionals do to help ease that pathway back to a HPW healthy culture in terms of ‘business as usual’, while ensuring that we support the people we work with every step along the way?

Communicate and consult

Now I can hear you all saying ‘obviously Lisa’, but you may be surprised by how many businesses simply fail to communicate or consult effectively or even enough with colleagues. It’s more important than ever to tell people what’s going on, so tell them what your proposed plans are and how you are reopening your workplace, reassure them that you intend to keep them safe and well. Ask them for their feedback in case there is anything you might have forgotten which they can tell you about.

Policy and process

With so many of us being able to work remotely from home, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to approach this especially if you never had a policy in the past. Be clear on the policy and process going forward. Consider what’s gone well (and what hasn’t), ask your colleagues how they’ve found it (as it’s not for everyone) and consider each case individually if people ask to remain working remotely.

Remaining remote

So, we all know in HR that it can be tricky managing human dynamics – yes?! During the last year these may have changed or new issues may have occurred so make sure you give consideration to this. Disharmony in the workplace is harmful and will have a detrimental effect on HPW, culture, morale and productivity if left to its own devices.

And remember – everyone’s experience will be different. Some people will be desperate to return to the workplace, others will not. There could be a range of reasons for this including the desire to avoid people they prefer not to deal with and it’s been easier to cope because they haven’t had to cross paths with them in the office.

These are just a few ways to help create a positive workplace culture of HPW for your people as they return to work and the ‘new way of normal’ post Covid. Communication is the key for the workplace now and for the future no matter what we have to deal with.

Lisa Seagroatt is founder and managing director of HR Fit for Purpose

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