returning to the office

Returning to the office won’t be easy. How can leaders support employees?

As employees begin returning to the office, there are some key considerations that leaders will want to address so their employees are supported.

returning to the office

Going back to the office and back to “normal” is a hot topic around the virtual water cooler these days. But as company leaders finalize their re-entry plans after more than 18 months of remote work, they face a cold new reality: The workplace as we knew it is no more. 

Even though socially distanced employees miss engaging with co-workers in person, many are reluctant to return full time. Research from Leger found that 33% of Americans and 40% of Canadians want to work a hybrid model, meaning a mix of in-office and at-home work. In addition, about half of Americans (47%) and Canadians (50%) who want to return to their workplace wouldn’t be comfortable doing so if some of their colleagues aren’t vaccinated. 

To help ensure successful re-entry, here are several ways to support your employees and teams when getting back to the office: 

Physical health and safety is job number one

Even as public health measures surrounding the pandemic lift, you can take steps to reduce health risks (and any associated fear factor) in your workplace. Guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus include implementing a rapid testing and screening program, providing personal protective equipment, and working with a building operator or HVAC specialist to improve air exchange rates or filtration. In the McKinsey study, improved air filtration was a top request among employees, with 62% saying it could decrease the stress they experienced from returning to work.

Put yourself in employees’ shoes

Just as employees had to acclimate to a new way of working when the pandemic first hit, the return to office comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges. For example, in a recent McKinsey survey, one-third of respondents said the return to work has had a negative impact on their mental health. Among those who have not yet returned to their workplace, nearly half anticipate negative mental health impacts such as stress and anxiety.

Create policies

A vaccine policy might also help ease employees’ minds. A survey by EY found that 61% of employees want their company to require the vaccine before returning to physical workspaces. For employees’ part, encourage them to stay home when they’re sick, practice hand hygiene, clean and disinfect their workstations, and maintain physical distance from co-workers.

Create an environment of psychological safety

In addition to making sure your employees are physically safe, it’s important to prioritize psychological safety. Psychological safety refers to the feeling of being one’s whole self at work, and the belief that one can speak up with ideas, questions or concerns without fear of negative consequences. 

A Workhuman survey of U.S. workers found that only 26% felt psychologically safe during the pandemic and experienced higher levels of burnout, stress and loneliness. 

Some ways you can boost employees’ psychological safety are showing appreciation for their ideas, being an active listener, fostering a culture of openness, and creating a sense of belonging.

Consider pay transparency

Most employers don’t want their employees to compare paycheques, as it can result in animosity and resentment among their teams. However, the concept of pay transparency is gaining momentum, as it aims to close unfair pay gaps based on gender, race, age or disability. While this might not be for everyone, it could be something to consider for some organizations.

Pay transparency allows your company’s compensation figures (salary ranges or specific numbers) to be visible to other people, either internally, publicly, or both. 

While pay transparency encourages equal pay, there’s more to it than monetary benefits. When done correctly, pay transparency can improve workplace culture, promote diversity, boost morale and improve employee engagement. Some pay transparency tips are: 

  1. Review compensation models and resolve salary discrepancies
  2. Determine your company’s comfort level with pay transparency
  3. Train managers on how to successfully navigate salary discussions.


Once you’ve reviewed these considerations, you will want to create a clear and transparent return to the office plan. Sharing your plans with employees will help to reduce anxiety and uncertainty about what awaits everyone as they transition into the post-pandemic workplace — whether they return in-person full time or take a hybrid approach.

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