The definition of return in the Oxford English Dictionary is to come or go back to a place or person. This month and next a lot of people are “returning “ to work but what if the place or person they are returning to is no longer there or is substantially different? What if the person is substantially different to the person who left? As someone who is currently returning to work and has returned to work from absences in the past, here are my magic 8 ball top tips for supporting and managing your team through this unique return:
1. It is an obvious one but I have seen it missed more often than not - talk to your returning employee. Speak to them on day one and ask them about their concerns and how they are feeling. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Talk to them about your expectations for the next few days. Diarise a meeting in the next week or so to follow up - some people returning to work are going to be in shock for the first few days and will then have lots of questions. Be ready for a delayed response as people get back up to speed.
2. Ask questions to make sure you are aware of changes in your returning colleague’s life - many people have had huge changes during this difficult period, ensure you are aware of what has been happening.
3. Consider the emotions in this return – both of the returning employee and the rest of the team. Some returning employees may feel refreshed and eager to go, others worried that following a period of loss of income they may now be at risk of redundancy or guilt that their colleagues have been working incredibly hard in their absence. Equally those colleagues who have worked through these tricky times maybe desperate for a break and not keen to hear about the returning colleague’s new found sourdough skills! Do not presume you know how people are feeling - ask them, listen and respond.
4. Remember the huge growth and change your organisation has been through in the last few months – remember your first WebEx and how you could not share the file you needed and did not know how to annotate on zoom – the returning employee hasn’t had the opportunity to learn all the new systems and ways of working. If the returning employee is new to working at home, talk to them about what you and others in your team have learnt about how to manage this change and ensure they have the necessary equipment. Give the employee time to adjust to these changes and support them.
5. Don’t expect returning employees to be telepathic about business changes – they don’t know the changes the business has been through and wading through months’ worth of emails is not the same as a proper briefing from a colleague. Many businesses have at least changed their terms and conditions in response to the pandemic and returning employees need to be aware of these changes.
6. Don’t expect the employee to go round collecting their work back – if you are the manager you need to speak to those who are covering the work and determine what, when and possibly, how it is going to be handed back.
7. If you are regulated ensure you liaise with your compliance team about any relevant training or other regulatory issues that the employees need to do before starting work.
8. Signpost available support such as Employee Assistance Programmes so employees can access support easily.
And if you are a returning employee be proactive but also give yourself time to adjust and ask for help from colleagues and line managers. I am assured by mine that they are very pleased to have us back!
There has never been a more important time to create a kind, fair and productive workplace. If you want help with making this happen for you and your team please do get in touch.