Adapting Your Return-to-Work Strategy

Adapting Your Return-to-Work Strategy

The start of 2022 is not quite what everyone was hoping for. With the Delta variant wave seemingly over and vaccine rates climbing, the light at the end of the tunnel was visible. Employers began initiating their return-to-work strategies and we were ready to take on 2022 with a fresh start.

However, we are currently facing the ominousness of the Omicron variant. This variant is proving to be a highly transmissible and vaccine-evasive variant, which means we have some unpredictable months ahead of us.

If all this back and forth is giving both you and your employees whiplash and you are wondering what this means for your return-to-work strategy, you are not alone. Luckily, Adam D. Galinsky, the chair of the Management Division at the Columbia Business School, has a solution. In his recent Harvard Business Review article, he explains that each employer’s return-to-work strategy needs to add contingencies that are very clearly communicated. Why? Because it helps everyone feel like they have a sense of control in this unpredictable situation we all find ourselves in.

Control in Times of Chaos

According to Galinsky’s cited and personal research, having a sense of control is linked to feeling more content, increased ability to tolerate discomfort or uncertainty, and reduced anxiety. During the unpredictable path of the Covid pandemic, this is exactly what employees need. The best way for employers to provide a sense of control, is by creating contingencies for their return work plan and create a clear and frequent communication plan.

Return-to-Work Contingencies

A re-opening plan with clear contingencies provides predictability and certainty. Galinksy’s states that the best way to do this is by creating one or more decision trees. Decision trees visually identify decision points and their alternative paths.  It helps employees see that there is already a plan in place for possible circumstances that may arise and it takes the uncertainty out of what their next move should be. Examples of decision trees include when and what will trigger remote and in office work, what to do if employees have certain symptoms or have been in close contact with a positive case, etc. You should also have a plan in place for unforeseen circumstances and understand that every plan will eventually need updating and refining as time goes on.

Communication is Key

Regardless of what stage you are in, clear and concise communication is the most important step you can take to ease your employees’ anxiety. Give them control through frequent communication. This lets them know they aren’t alone in the dark, that you are aware of the situation and that you are constantly adapting to take care of their needs. When it comes to unforeseen circumstances, let employees know about the updated or altered plan to integrate a new reality. Clearly describe the changing circumstances, how the original plan failed to effectively accommodate the evolving reality, and how the updated protocol is designed to manage this new normal. Remember to keep your communication strategy aligned with the organization’s values and you take your employees’ perspective into account to ensure the smoothest transition.

For more information on updating your return to work plan with contingencies and creating a communication strategy, visit Harvard Business Review.

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