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Editorial Team
10 Aug 2020



Navigating Psychological Readiness as Employees Prepare To Return To Work Post COVID

new workforce challenges

American soldiers are deployed for military duty overseas for many decades now. The US government has devised a ton of reintegration programs that ease these soldiers back into normal, everyday lives.

Even though these returns to normalcy are emotional and joyful events, but the transition can be disorienting. Quite difficult, as a matter of fact.

Now correlate this experience with what the general population is facing as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.  

Statistics report that 2.7 billion people around the globe have been impacted by COVID-19. Several governments, both state and federal, have introduced stringent lockdowns or stay-at-home measures.

The crisis has brought with it a host of uncertainties and new challenges for the workforce at large, affecting four out of five workers in the US.

How Has COVID-19 Psychologically Affected the Workforce?  

As temporary flexibility measures cease and the curve has been sufficiently “flattened, the governments withdraw stay-at-home directions, it is time for organizations to think about turning back to normal – whatever normal will be.

There are some key issues for which employers should start prepping for. The return to physical office spaces after the all-consuming COVID-19 may be far harder for employees than we expect.

Many have experienced massive changes: loss of loved ones; physical trauma; encroachment on safety, freedom and financial independence and; threat to job security.

It is important to remember that recovery will not be static. Nor will it happen on a specific date.

This has led to a huge chunk of the American workforce showing signs of clinical depression or anxiety. Many are still angry.

This, by far, is the most troubling alarming sign of the psychological toll caused by the pandemic.

Workplace Action - Managing Psychological Risks in The Face of The COVID-19 Crisis

Today, coronavirus begs the question, “Are there adequate reasons for us to want to fully return to the workaholic status-quo?”

The novel coronavirus pandemic has not only exposed a weak medical ecosystem but has shed more than enough light on the unpreparedness on the part of business enterprises to entice their workforce to return to work.

Now that many of the businesses have decided to reopen there’s a lot of apprehension on the part of employees. Because it’s not simply a return to old ways of doing business.

The post-pandemic phase is about embracing a new reality – and – rethinking work.

A lot will depend on leaders and how they balance and accommodate the traditional work setting with divergent expectations. Their actions will define the future of trust in their organization.

Preparing the Workforce Physically, Mentally, And Psychologically to Return to Work

So, what are the workplace action points that can help navigate the psychological readiness for employees to return to work?

Toward that ILO Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems recommend, “The protection of the mental health of workers should be integrated into workplace occupational safety and health management systems, emergency preparedness and response plans and return to work plans developed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Workplace hazard identification and risk assessment should be carried out before any modification or introduction of new work methods, materials, processes or machinery. “

A report by Deloitte aptly highlights five critical action points. These strategies are best equipped to help organizations close the gap between crisis response and business readiness in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Reflect: Think about the response mechanism, what has worked, what hasn’t, and lessons learned by bringing in different voices and perspectives

Recommit: Recognize the purpose to focus on employee’s physical, psychological and financial well-being – both at home and at the workplace

Re-engage: Consider redeploying your workforce to match evolving priorities within the organization whilst playing fair to their strengths and potential

Rethink: Leverage COVID-19 response to accelerate and drive future opportunities in the workplace.

Reboot: Identify the most pressing issues and workforce priorities and realign people's operations and HR functions toward them.

Other than these guidelines and recovery strategies, psychologists also recommend empowering employees with control and decision-making capabilities over where, how and when they work.

Final Thoughts

While executing these guidelines and strategies, organizations need to acknowledge the anxiety that returning to shared physical spaces will evoke for many. The answer lies in planning.

How organizations prepare for and shape the new normal can help them emerge stronger in the face of adversity.

Much like a military deployment, the idea is to emerge on the other side of this pandemic with new eyes and experiences, wherein every worker brings in new awareness as they return to the office.

The transition will be gradual from dealing with the present situation to building some semblance of continuity.

Have you forged a plan yet?


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