Employee trust and appreciation are on the rise. The COVID pandemic presented leaders a substantial opportunity to put their employees first, to communicate often and with authenticity. This has paid off in building trust and connection among employees, their managers and leaders.
With companies planning for the return to the office, maintaining these improved connections is paramount. One aspect of returning to the workplace you may not be thinking about is the span of opinions your employees have about the virus and how they will treat others whose views differ. You can lose your bump in engagement by not reinforcing respect in the office when it comes to employees’ diverse behavior, opinions and actions on the virus and safety guidance.
Learn from the media’s mistakes
If you haven’t completely stopped watching and reading the news, you’re aware of the conflict between people who diligently follow the guidance given to protect vulnerable populations and those who resist wearing the protective equipment. One cause of the conflict is that the directives given by health experts and our state, local and federal governments are inconsistent.
Complicating the guidance given is media headlines that convey an incomplete description. Recently, a USA Today headline read “New Jersey will require face masks to be worn outdoors, governor says.” Missing from the headline and first four paragraphs of the article was the critical additional information “if you can’t socially distance.” Disputes on social media were rampant. The initial headline and that of many news stations caused fear among those who feel vulnerable contrasted with outrage from the people that don’t believe you need a mask everywhere.
Preventing conflict among employees
For business leaders, have you considered how this could play out in your workplace when employees return to the office? People have very different fears and opinions for many reasons. Employee conflict around issues of safety and preference can erupt when least expected. Some employees will be extra cautious by wearing masks when they’re not required and others will want the restrictions lifted as early as possible. This can cause disagreements and ridicule among employees if not openly addressed. You want to avoid situations where employees are mocking a colleague for being extra cautious or blaming someone for not caring about others.
What you can do to reduce employee disagreements
Employees tend to be on their best behavior in the workplace but there are actions you can take to limit teasing or accusations from eroding the improvements you gained in employee trust and appreciation.
- Be clear on your mandatory expectations and where there is flexibility.
- Be upfront with employees on unacceptable behaviors and the consequences.
- Hold managers accountable for enforcing the expectations as soon as an issue arises.
- Provide a resource for employees to go to for consistent, accurate information.
- Let employees know that the health and safety guidelines will be adjusted over time and no changes will be effective until the company notifies them.
- Reinforce importance of respect in the workplace.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
You want to avoid contention, blaming and ridicule during this very sensitive time. And you want to enhance the positive culture you’ve gained so your employees like coming to work and building on their and the company’s success.