May 12, 2021

Three Ways to Relieve the Uncertainty of Return-to-Work

Is the “Great Resignation” really on the way?

I read the Bloomberg article How to Quit Your Job in the Great Post-Pandemic Resignation Boom by Arianne Cohen with great interest. Self-interest, mainly. The truth is, I don’t want any of our team resigning – so I read it with a bit of doubt and possibly even a little fear. When I got through it, though, I think I felt a little better. 

My take on the "Great Resignation" is people either want to maintain a piece of the freedom their “socially distanced” employment entailed, or they want to make a bigger shift. A bigger shift – to a new career, a passion project, etc. – is a personal decision that anyone who makes is entitled to and should be wished well, with complete sincerity. A leap is a leap – I made one myself once and I applaud people who want to do that.

On the other hand, uncertainty about post-pandemic workplace expectations may also drive the “Great Resignation.” In my experience as a strategic communications leader and counselor to some amazing CEOs and clients past and present, there is no way to eliminate the uncertainty that comes with return to work, but it is possible to relieve some of the stresses related to the uncertainty.

How can employers relieve the uncertainty about post-pandemic return-to-work? Three ways: Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  1. ASK employees what they want to do – conduct workplace surveys - these can be formal Employee Experience Surveys or simple “Survey Monkeys” for larger companies, one-on-one discussions for smaller companies or a combination of the two. Some employees are itching to get out of their apartments and back into the office, others may want the flexibility to continue dropping the kids off at after-school activities or checking in on an elderly parent, and may prefer a flexible solution. If there’s anything we as employers have learned over the past year, it’s to let go of preconceived notions that out of sight means out of pocket. Our teams are working – hard. Let’s treat them like the adults they are, and ask for input on what their future workplace structure should look like.
  2. SHARE limitations that exist – not just what can’t happen, but why. Not just what you know, but also what you don't know. Is your business built on face-to-face customer service? Then, yes, being in the workplace matters for customer-facing roles. Clearly employees have to understand the nuances of the business to know what can and can’t work, it is the role of managers to help lay out clear expectations and rationale. The more open and honest arrangements are, including who can work from home when, and why, the more respect across the board employees will have for the decisions that are reached. Obviously, this doesn’t mean sharing individuals personal circumstances with each other, but it does mean sharing the conditions under which employees may request alternate workplace considerations.
  3. LISTEN and ADJUST – the plan for July may not be ideal come September. In fact, the return to work plan on day 1 may result in changes on day 2. The most important thing is to continue to communicate openly with your teams. That doesn’t mean send out weekly emails with instructions, it means listen to what your employees have to say and make adjustments as appropriate.

Obviously, there is no way to eliminate all uncertainty, but good communication can relieve the stresses caused by the uncertainty. The important thing is listen to your teams, and address the unknown -- we don't have all the answers; we don't have a crystal ball. Be honest about what you know and what you don't know. That's open communications and it’s never too late to start really communicating. More two-way communication can lead to more secure employees and, hopefully, fewer resignations.

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