As managers, many of us are preparing to return to the office after many weeks of managing virtually. We are all living through a world pandemic, yet we know that each person on our team has had his or her own unique experience. Same crisis, different realities. We may not know what to expect, but we do know that this return to normal, whenever it comes, will be a different normal.
One of the first things I will do is meet with each member of the team to check-in, to better understand what it was like for them to work from home and their emotions around returning to the workplace. Remember that nearly 20% of our population struggles with an anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive related disorder.
These conditions include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder and more. I encourage all of you to establish (unless already in place) Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and other organization-sponsored mental health resources during this transition time. And most importantly, do everything you can to de-stigmatize using them.
Transition takes time, patience, and strategy. It will also take training.
Be prepared for a lot of questions about cleanliness and workplace safety. It may take some employees more time to adjust. Some won’t believe that the threat has been greatly minimized. When you return, encourage people to talk about their experience at home, their challenges and fears. But provide leadership that gently encourages compassionate discussion but not dwelling.
This is a time for employers to show resilience – the ability to endure, recover and grow in the face of adversity. To learn about composure, adaptability and self-care, your team may need both strategies and resources.
As we have seen from some of our politicians, leaders, friends, and colleagues, bias and discrimination are common reactions in times of stress and crisis. Emotions like fear of the unknown can cause people to act contrary to their conscious thoughts and feelings. There will be a role for education about unconscious bias and how that will impact our decisions in the COVID-19 aftermath if left unchecked.
Most importantly we need to remember to be ourselves; our authentic selves. We lead companies and have been working hard on strategies to adjust to the future, and the present. But we are, also, mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, dads, moms, children and we are in the same crisis, doing our best.
“The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”
Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court Justice (1908-1993)