The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit India badly, rendering several places in lockdown or under strict quarantine. While the growing number of cases justifies the need for lockdown, most parts of India are going back to the pre-2020 normal. Companies, industries, workplaces are now working full time with 100% staff, in compliance with government guidelines. But employees are hesitant to return to offices due to the still ongoing pandemic and rightly so. So how can organizations, leaders and HR executives help their employees? There are tons of ways companies and employers can help ease the pandemic-induced anxiety about returning to work among their staff.

On World Day For Safety And Health At Work, TC46 lists 10 ways employers can make back-to-work a lot safe for staff and ease the pandemic-induced workplace reentry anxiety. 

10 Ways Companies Can Help Ease Pandemic-Induced Anxiety At Work

1. Prioritise Employee Wellbeing

Employees want reassurance that their companies will put their people first whenever possible, especially in difficult times. Most employers receive positive recognition from their staff for the way they’ve responded to the pandemic thus far. And companies need to continue demonstrating a commitment to their values during the reentry phase. Most Indian CEOs are willing to wait till 50% vaccinations before opening offices, states a survey.

Experts suggest having regular check-ins with employees to understand how they are coping with the whole situation. This encourages open conversations with the employees and allows for any warning signs of emotional distress to be identified ahead of time. 

2. Set Safety Measures In Place

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Nothing is as motivating during the pandemic as it is to see safety and sanitization being a priority at work. Employers can set up a strict sanitizing schedule before and after working hours to ensure the safety of everyone. With hygiene and social distancing already in place, preventative measures like distributing masks, sanitizers will help HR avoid a case in the office.

A fogging machine from a trusted brand to disinfect the office premises is a good start. Sanitization points at all entrances and exits should be a must. Common areas of the office like restrooms, pantries and other such spaces should be sanitized multiple times.

3. Engage In Proactive & Transparent Communication

A consistent relay of communications from your CEO or other trusted leaders is key to managing employee anxiety. Along with this daily newsletters from HR with developments, guidelines and tips will not only assure employees but also boost morale. Research shows that employees who regularly receive updates from their companies are more likely to have positive views of their employers.

A pattern of open two-way communication is especially critical as employers take actions to deal with the pandemic’s economic impact. Organizations that have kept employees abreast of business performance and engaged in ongoing dialogue with their people will be better prepared for difficult conversations. HR can introduce anonymous communication spaces, online and offline, for employees to share their questions and concerns.

4. Adhere To Government Guidelines & Implement Public Health Measures

Unfortunately, Indians are known to flout rules and go against government mandate even during the pandemic. While these numbers are low as most organizations value life over money, there are some who seem to take the situation lightly.

In such cases, it becomes imperative that leaders, directors and the HR team step in and advise the decision makers to adhere to government guidelines. While it may seem okay to call in the nearest residing employees to come in and work while the lockdown continues, it is unnecessary and dangerous. It might even have legal repurcussions that can lead to sealing the place by authorities. 

5. Offer Flexible Working Hours

It is key that employers understand the benefits of working from home and flexible working hours. Experts suggest to not rush to bring all the employees back into the office. 2020 has shown that it is possible to get work done not only remotely but on a variety of schedules that best accommodate people’s preferred working hours and personal commitments. 

As workplaces reopen, employers can expect pressure to maintain this flexibility, particularly from team members caring for children or sick loved ones. The past year of working from home has proven to be largely effective for the majority of the industries in India. As such, allow employees to make their own choices to encourage a gradual shift back to fully reopened workplaces. A few HR policy amendments can do wonders for the staff.

6. Implement An Effective Mental Health Support Programme

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and more are on the rise and have been so since the onset of the pandemic. The second wave of COVID-19 has put even more mental pressure on people and it’s crucial for employers to undertsand this. 

Introduce external mental health programmes so that employees can seek professional help when needed. With the advent of telehealth, these programmes can come in the form of online therapy sessions. According to a study, online therapy sessions were found to be 80% as or more effective than traditional in-person therapy and counselling. This provides more convenience and flexibility for employees to schedule a session as they do not need to spend time commuting or waiting.

7. Train Leaders & Managers On How To Support Employees

Leaders and managers can shoulder the responsibility for ensuring a smooth return to the workplace. Several companies are considering holding mandatory virtual ‘reentry boot camps’ for the staff, focused on topics such as dealing with ambiguity, building personal resilience, developing emotional intelligence, and leading hybrid teams. Armed with insights into these areas, managers can model needed behaviours and share them with their teams to support new ways of working.

People managers will need to take greater responsibility for employees’ well-being. This includes familiarizing themselves with the warning signs of emotional distress, factoring more time into their days for checking in with staff, helping team members understand what is and isn’t within their control, and learning how to triage real-time issues while other resources are called upon to help.

8. Oversee Routine Contact Tracing 

Most COVID-19 transmissions occur before the carrier develops symptoms. To protect your employees and reduce anxiety, you must perform immediate and aggressive contact tracing when any infections crop up.

Contract tracing works by asking an infected person who they’ve come in close contact with and contacting them. They take a test and, if positive, self-isolate. Contact tracing efforts are much easier if utilizing a visitor management system, especially one that can double as an employee in-out digital space. This will keep track of all visitors and employees that are in the office at any given time and make identifying individuals who have come in contact with an infected person much easier.

9. Boost Vaccination Rate By Offering Paid Leaves

India is progressing towards vaccination with lowering the age for eligibility to 18 years. With several restrictions in place, it can be tough for employees to get vaccinated during weekends or after hours. A paid day off for vaccination will not only get the process expedited but also reduce the chances of infection at the workplace.

While it may not be a mandate for private organizations, it can be the biggest badge of trust and recognition for employers to offer paid vaccination leave. While government sectors and MNCs are providing vaccination facilities at the office or at a nearby centre, it’s certainly not feasible for all. Private firms can do with a simple paid leave.

10. Indulge In Socially Distanced Bonding Activities

Work from home has changed the work environment quite a bit and it’s not uncommon to feel a bit disconnected in the workplace. Bonding activities for employees organized by HR can develop a sense of belonging and unity. 

Create a chatroom solely for employees to post cute or funny pictures of their animal companions! Start a book club, play virtual games, enjoy group meditation sessions, have a video call luncheon or even a BYOB virtual happy hour night!

A strong plan, communication and implementation of vital changes can help a lot. Creating a strong team is undeniably one of the most important things to help drive the success of a business. Don’t let your team become isolated or allow the excitement to slip away! Let returning to the office become a safe, healthy and happy experience for all.

Srushti Pathak
Srushti Pathak

A blogger, aspiring author and old soul at heart, Srushti Pathak believes in writing stories that touch the heart. She maintains that curiosity defines her zeal for writing and creativity in all spheres of life motivates her.

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