Integrate Emotional Intelligence into Your Return-to-Work Program

Returning to work presents a variety of considerations, including the emotional thermostat of your office. If you want to set a good emotional temperature for your employees, there are a few things you can do.

Do a Self-Check

Check in on your own emotional state.  How are you doing with the transition back to the office?  Or, if you are continuing to work remotely, how are you handling that?  Your emotional state drives your ability to keep yourself motivated, as well as your team.

emotional intelligence and return to work program

Be honest with your assessment.  If you are a bit uneasy or still have concerns, talk to your HR representative, peers, manager, or family members and flush out what’s bothering you; get your questions answered.  If you have questions, your team is likely to have them as well.

Tap into whatever self-management tools you normally use to get yourself grounded.  Think of a time when you needed to ground yourself…what did you do then that you could apply today?  If you need assistance doing this, don’t be shy.  Ask for support.  This is a time when being vulnerable is to your advantage.

Lean in on Empathy

Once you feel you are mentally solid, shift your focus to your employees.  How are they feeling about returning to the office?  What concerns do they have? The more you can ‘meet them where they are’ the better your RTW program will go.  Here are some things you can do.

Survey Employees

Set up an anonymous survey and ask your employees how they feel about returning to the office. They may have concerns about being around others who aren’t vaccinated, wearing masks all day, losing productivity levels they’ve attained by working from home and not commuting, saying goodbye to money and time saved by working from home, etc.  There may be some who are eager to return because their home office was not conducive to being able to focus.  Get your finger on the pulse of their mindset.

Ask for their ideas to make returning safe and comfortable.  Your best idea may come from someone with a completely different perspective.  Inviting employees to partner on creating your RTW program will generate a sense of inclusion.

If you’ve already launched your program, review it for ways to address concerns you may not have considered. Be open to making modifications.

Encourage Dialogue

Create forums for employees to openly communicate among themselves. Run focus groups to gather input on how to best meet the needs of your employees and the organization at the same time.  Make it safe for people to share their thoughts and ideas.

Consider Pros and Cons

The last year has shown many companies the benefits of allowing remote workers and restricting travel.  The cost savings from limited travel were what sustained several companies suffering a slump in sales.  Many people were happy to spend more time with their families and less on their commute. Happier employees led to more productive employees.  In some cases, more productive to a fault.  A lot of employees did not know how to set boundaries at home and worked longer hours.  This is a short-term gain but not sustainable over time and can lead to burnout.  Are your employees on the road to burnout?

Leaders and employees alike have noticed the social aspect suffers when everyone is working remotely.  Gone are the days when you bumped into someone in the hall or the breakroom and had a casual conversation.  A conversation that built rapport or provided an opportunity to get a question answered without sending yet another email.  If you want to speak with someone, you schedule a meeting or call them and hope they aren’t already on a Zoom or Teams meeting.  Returning to the office, even two days a week, could bring back some serendipity.

Think about meeting dynamics.   Have you ever been in a meeting with one or two people remote and everyone else in the room?   Whose voices get heard the most?  Not the people on the phone.  In-person dynamics enable better reading of social cues as well.  If it’s an important meeting, you need to leverage all the intel you can get.

There are too many pros and cons to list them all here.  The point is to take the time to reflect on how employees are affected by working in the office or remotely and incorporate your insights into your RTW program.

Offer Flexibility

Take a hard look at each work situation. Do they really need to be in the office?  If so, structure your program accordingly.  If you can make the case for them working from home, offer that option.  Many organizations are offering hybrid work schedules with two days in the office and three at home, or vice versa.  Offering employees flexibility that says, “I appreciate your situation” will show them you care about them as people, not just employees. 

Provide an Orientation

Returning to work is, in some ways, akin to being hired. New employees need to be onboarded with training and tools to succeed.   Coming back to the office where things are different – masks are required, cubicles are further apart, one person may be allowed in the breakroom at a time – means getting re-oriented.  Over communicate to your employees prior to their return what the new rules of the game are post-Covid. Reassure them that you and your fellow leaders are working together to keep employees and the company thriving.

Create an orientation kit to employees that includes emergency contact numbers, protective masks, CDC’s Guidelines to Returning to Work and anything else that employees need to get reacclimated.

These are just a few ways to integrate emotional intelligence into your company’s RTW program and create a smooth transition back to the new reality.  For more ideas on how to use emotional intelligence in your workplace, or to help build your capacity to handle the emotional complexity of the new reality, connect with me here

And remember, it’s your choice.  Make it count.

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