Many employees don’t want to come back to work, but they must. So how can HR professionals re-engage employees who aren’t happy about being there?
It’s an emerging challenge for employers – especially those that gave their people the flexibility to work remotely for the past 18 months. Some employees resent having to work on-site again. Others have safety and well-being fears. Some prefer working remotely.
That’s contributed to lower employee morale: Two-thirds of employees said team morale was high before COVID-19. Now, less than half say it is, according to a Paychex survey.
What’s more, employees aren’t just reluctant to come back to work. Forty-three percent say their decision to stay in their jobs hinges on how their employers handle workplace reentry, according to the Prudential Pulse of the American Worker Survey.
“Employee well-being is one of the cornerstones of a company’s culture. Taking additional steps to increase employee engagement now can influence the success of a business, foster employee loyalty, and encourage a healthier work environment,” says HR Coach Marsha Akpodiete at Paychex. “Open, frequent, and empathetic communication will be key as businesses navigate the return to work.”
So your work to re-engage and motivate employees now will likely have a long-term effect. That’s why it’s critical for HR pros, executives and front-line managers to try new strategies to engage employees.
Employees will more likely come back to the workplace if they feel less pressure to be there all the time. So rather than try to lure them back – or hire new – with cash, which is a short-term fix, offer as much flexibility as you can.
“Offering stipends doesn’t dig down to the sole root of the issue around why Americans don’t want to return to work,” says Jeri Herman, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Cengage. “For many, they have taken on family commitments that make it difficult to leave the house, or they have ongoing public health concerns. This is why employers should offer flexible work environments, such as hybrid structure and supporting working flex-hours.”
It doesn’t have to last forever (although if it works well, you might consider that), but if hybrid or flex-hours remain an option, employees will stay engaged with their companies.
Up their skills
But we understand that flexible hours and hybrid work schedules won’t work for every employer forever. That’s why you need to reignite work passion and company engagement quickly.
Almost half of workers would want training or reskilling to do their job in the next year, the Pulse of America survey found. More importantly, 43% believe their financial security could be in jeopardy if they don’t do some training or reskilling.
Employees are eager to learn – even if it’s in their personal self interest. That’s why offering them more opportunities to learn and expand their potential will help re-engage them.
“Long-term learning opportunities are a critical and unique way to keep new employees motivated after returning to work, as these programs support staff’s long-term success and drive upward mobility,” says Herman.
But don’t just offer job-specific training. The Prudential researchers said soft-skill training is critical, too – from problem-solving and overcoming adversity to public speaking and team-building.
Make the building an incentive
If you want all – or most – of your people back on-site, offer incentives to be back on-site.
For instance, one company gave employees a flexible option to work home some days and reserve a workspace in the office other days. The other option: Come in (almost) full-time and get your own, large space to work.
Other companies have offered commute perks such as stipends for travel, gym memberships and free meals on Mondays and Fridays. Some even recreated on-site the things employees loved about remote work – “Quiet Hours” when people can’t interrupt each other, casual work attire, flexible arrival and departure times and video conferencing meetings so people can stay put even when they’re on site.
But there’s a caveat to this idea: You don’t want to punish people for not coming into the office. For instance, a LiveCareer study found it’s more difficult for women to return to work full-time because they’re often in charge of child care. So they’re careers are more likely to get derailed by return-to-office policies.
Mind the front-line
To re-engage employees, start on the front-line. Employees who have good relationships with their bosses are more engaged with their teams and work, the Paychex survey found.
While managers don’t need – and perhaps don’t want to – be buddies with employees, they want to create a friendly, open environment. According to the researchers, front-line managers want to try these strategies:
- Give employees space and time to talk about current events
- Ask how they’re doing outside of work
- Acknowledge stress and burnout – and try to help employees, and
- Encourage constructive conversations about work frustrations.
One word of caution: These tactics don’t work with every employee. Some people prefer to stick to business at all times. Others don’t want to talk about themselves or their concerns. That’s OK. Focus on what works for individual employees.
Remember traditional tactics
HR pros and front-line managers have focused heavily on employees’ needs in a pandemic – from health and safety to job security. So they might’ve let the traditional things that motivated people fall by the wayside.
- Do you still recognize and reward employees for their work?
- Are you maintaining a culture where employees feel cared about?
- Do employees have opportunities to recognize and reward colleagues for extra efforts and support?
- Have you continued to offer employees enough opportunities to build relationships – such as social events during and outside of work?
You may not do the same things as you did before the pandemic to build morale, but it’s important to re-engage employees with perks that fit today’s workplace.
“When employees return and corporate profitability regains consistency, leaders may also want to review their compensation packages to recognize and incentivize their employees’ hard work during this pandemic,” Akpodiete says. “This could include a pay increase, a 401K match, increased employer contribution for health insurance premiums and more.”
Make it fun again
People enjoyed work for reasons beyond the work. They liked relationships and collaboration with colleagues. Many built friendships with co-workers. They shared interests. And if they didn’t do things together after work or on the weekends, they talked about what they did do then.
Bring back the things that weren’t about work, but made work fun. It might be time to plan outdoor picnics and potlucks again. Or give teams time and resources to work together on their favorite Diversity, Equity and Inclusion ideas and events.
Not sure if employees are ready for this much interaction? Then ask them. Send a survey. Organize the things they’re ready to do – whether that’s organized lunchtime walks or virtual happy hours.