IN THE MIDDLE | career advancement

Alleviating Your Workforce’s Return-to-Office Anxiety

By AJ Chua
Published August 02, 2021

COVID-19 vaccination programs are already ongoing. With more and more Filipinos getting vaccinated, plans to return to the office are being echoed in the business community. However, scores of employees remain reluctant to leave their DIY home offices and face their workstations, pre-pandemic style.

According to Ernst and Young's 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey—conducted in March 2021—the majority of respondents would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 pandemic if they are not provided some form of flexibility. The survey showed that employees from SEA prefer to work in flexible arrangements than in an office setup, with 32% of the respondents looking to work anywhere, 29% choosing remote work, and 23% preferring a hybrid working arrangement. Only 15% of SEA respondents would prefer to work from the office full time.

It’s clear that while some choose to embrace hybrid models and flexible schedules, remote work continues to be the most sought-after type of job flexibility for employees and the reason is pretty obvious: we are still in the midst of a pandemic.

The Rising Employee Resistance

The pandemic is far from over, and this very fact makes most if not all Filipinos anxious about what the future holds, and there’s a good reason to be.

Just as the Philippines enters the second half of the year with more eased restrictions, the country has recorded its first locally acquired cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19. This unfortunate news prompted the national government to place the NCR under general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions from July 30 to August 5, then enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from August 6 to 20, a piece of dreadful news to people yet a rightful move for those in power.

With such a threat, more employees have become wary of meeting their colleagues face-to-face and being in close contact with strangers during their everyday commute. They are also worried about what more future changes to the way of living may bring, which is an understandable mindset as the personal and working life of individuals has shifted dramatically too many times in the past year due to the constantly changing quarantine restriction level in the country. In short, the constant fear of living or working through a pandemic has made us exhausted, and most of us are not only tired from the pandemic but of life in general, so the idea of yet another routine disruption and a less flexible model sound troublesome.

On top of all this is social anxiety. The pressure to return to everyday life tends to make most individuals feel anxious about another possible shift in social patterns. After all, most of us have been doing things in social isolation for more than a year now, so it’s not surprising that some may wonder whether they can still manage to be outside their haven, or keep a conversation going.

Managing Stress and Anxiety of Employees

Considering the factors that make up for an employee’s reluctance to leave their desks at home, forcing staff back to the office may lead to high employee turnover. However, employers can’t just abandon the idea of foregoing the WFH setup because as much as they value theiremployees’ safety, having employees physically on hand for meetings and discussions has its benefits. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do.

Disseminate information early on

If you have plans to call your employees back in the office, do it now. It’s crucial to give your people ample amount of lead time to do whatever they have to do before the day comes.

Find out how people are feeling and act with compassion

Clear communication will be key. Being aware of what your people feel about plans to have them back at the office will give you a headstart as to how you can address their concerns. The challenge here is that not everyone will be open about their opinions, so to make up for it, try to cultivate the right kind of leadership by showing compassion and understanding to encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings, whether it be positive or negative.

Offer flexibility

Going back to the results of EY’s 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey where a majority of respondents are found to crave flexibility, being sensitive to the anxiety of your workforce and being open to adjustments, particularly in how and when work gets done, will help you address and respond to different employee situations and needs.

Bringing employees back to the office may be tricky. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and you’ll have to play around multiple work arrangements to finally move forward alongside your people. While it does sound difficult, letting your employees know that their safety is your priority and providing genuine support amid uncertainty and anxiety will be good first steps to take.