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5 reasons employees haven’t returned to your workplace and how to address them

There’s no denying it. The U.S. has entered a new phase of the COVID pandemic, and this time things are looking up. People have started to go back to the workplace, but most companies are nowhere close to hitting their capacity limits. While executives may be eager for their people to come back on-site, some employees are still unsure. 

So what’s causing the holdup? It turns out, the reasons your employees may not want to work on-site aren’t always so obvious. In this post, we’ll reveal some lesser-known concerns people have about returning and what you can do to address them.

1 – They don’t want to be the guinea pigs

People want to go back on-site. But not everyone wants to be the first to do it. Most people understand that there’s a settling-in period when their workplace opens back up. Workplace teams have lots of work to do to get things running smoothly under new processes and procedures. Some folks appreciate a work environment that’s both stable and predictable. They want to know what a return to the workplace actually looks like for them. Too much uncertainty puts them off of going back, even if it means working in remote conditions that are less than ideal. 

How to handle this

Make sure to provide employees a clear look into the workplace. Provide a space for returnees to share workplace stories, videos, and photos to get others excited about going back. This will go a long way to assure others that they’ll be able to be productive at work despite it being early days. It’ll also help them picture what their day-to-day will look like when they’re back on-site. 

2 – They have anxiety about leaving their home

Our homes have been a safe space, particularly over the past year. In fact, many people only left their homes out of necessity and maybe the occasional walk around the block. While some people are excited to break away from this routine, others may be anxious about leaving what has become second nature. They don’t want to venture out of their comfort zone, especially since, technically, they’re able to get their work done from home.

How to handle this

This group of employees may feel a sense of anxiety or dread just thinking about returning. To ease their fears, be sure to highlight what your team has done to keep the workplace safe. This should include anything from sanitation to social distancing policies. For many people, especially those who rely on public transport, the commute is also a concern. They may worry about getting sick and infecting others. Consider expensing transportation costs for the first month of your workplace reopening to encourage employees to take a safer mode of transportation to work. 

3 – They got a pandemic pet

Another reason people may not want to return is because of new pet responsibilities. So many pet adoptions have taken place over the last year that some shelters ran out of animals. Now that workplaces are reopening, people worry about leaving their pets alone at home. Even if these employees do go into the workplace, they may have a hard time concentrating and being productive. 

How to handle this

If your workplace allows pets, encourage employees to do the paperwork necessary to bring theirs on-site. But, be mindful. Animals can be loud and cause a stir. Limit the number of days an employee can bring their pet to work each week to avoid distracting people on-site. Have people sign up in advance so you know whose pets are coming in and when. If your company has a hybrid work model, enabling pets in the workplace can go a long way to encourage people to work on-site. Employees may not be at work every day, but when they are they’ll have the peace of mind that their furry friends can come along, too.

4 – They don’t know anyone

While some organizations have had to downsize their staff during the pandemic, 60% of companies have actually hired employees. These newer hires have likely only interacted with their colleagues over Slack and Zoom. Without meaningful workplace relationships, they may be overwhelmed or uninterested in working on-site. They’ve probably also gotten into the habit of doing remote work.

How to handle this

Workplace connections play a big role in encouraging people to return. In fact, 52% of employees will consider who else plans to work on-site before they head in. Give your pandemic hires a guided tour of the workplace to help them feel more at ease. Show them where different teams work and who they can go to if they have questions. Consider pairing them with a workplace buddy for a week so they have someone to eat and chat with at work. Encourage employees to share their office schedules so people can plan to go in with their work friends and teammates.

5 – They’re burnt out

Finally, employees who don’t want to go back to the workplace may actually be burnt out. The pandemic has impacted everyone differently. For some people, remote work has meant longer hours and less vacation time. Commuting to work and engaging with colleagues—which was simple enough before the pandemic—may feel like overload now. 

How to handle this

We all want our employees to come back, but not at the risk of their health and wellbeing. Acknowledge that some of your employees need to take time off before coming back to work. Be sure that managers speak with their teams about taking a vacation before returning if they need it. If it’s not possible for employees to take time off, ease them back into the workplace by giving them the option to come in 1-2 days a week to start. A slow return is better than nothing and will help ensure that people don’t come back to work disgruntled. 

Getting employees excited about returning to work starts with understanding what’s holding them back. The workplace should be a place where people want to go to work. By offering solutions that address issues like the ones above, you can help people return with fewer reservations and more enthusiasm.  

Want more return to work tips? Watch our webinar, Building a people-centric workplace experience, and hear from workplace leaders about how they’re approaching their return with their employees top of mind.