What to do if your employees do not want to return to office-based work post Covid?

Date posted: 20th April 2021

Returning to work post covid

The future of work is a topic that is doing the rounds amongst office-based employees all over the UK. The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown that followed created a fully operational remote working environment pretty much overnight. 

Business owners, leaders and employees have performed extraordinary well to keep the wheels of industry turning during a truly unprecedented time and in many cases, rather than simply surviving, have been able to thrive in this peculiar new environment. 

But after a year or so, the prospect of returning to office-based work permanently is quickly becoming a reality and many workforces, for many different reasons, may be reluctant to return to office-based work altogether. So if this is indeed the case for your business, what should you do next?

Listen, examine, decide.

As leaders in your business, the most important skill that you can invoke during uncertain times is to listen to your workforce. We appreciate that times have been challenging and patience may be starting to wear thin, however it is crucial that you take the time to listen to any employee(s) that have reservations about returning to work and come to the most amicable solution possible. 

As we mentioned previously, there are an array of reasons why someone may not be willing to return to office-based work, some are entirely valid, some may not be. We have included some generic examples below with advice on how to manage those – but it is important to emphasise that each scenario is different, each individuals’ personal circumstances are different and should be individually managed and addressed to the best of your ability:

“I am scared to return to work”. 

This is likely to be one of the most common reasons for employees to resist returning to the office. In this scenario, it is important for you to take context, circumstance and, importantly, the state of the business into account. One of the most crucial things to remember is that if an employee signed their contract in normal circumstances prior to the pandemic in-line with office-based working – then legally they must return to the office if the employer says so. Nevertheless, it is vital that as business leaders you manage this scenario carefully. You should explain to concerned employees what precautions you have implemented to protect the workforce. You should then ask employees if there might be any additional, reasonable precautions that would make them feel more comfortable returning to work. It is also massively important that however the situation progresses, you remain respectful of the employees’ concerns. Even if you reach a place where termination of a contract (which should always be the last resort) is necessary, you will need to demonstrate that you took all concerns on board, did everything necessary to overcome them and are making a final decision for the well-being of the business. 

“I am more productive from home”

Of course, this is not your employee’s decision to make and if you believe that working from the office is what is necessary to optimise employee output, then that should be the final decision. Although, what if your workforce is right in this scenario?

We know that we may start to sound like a broken record at this point, however listening and encouraging conversation between business leaders and the workforce is so important. Why do they feel like this? Is there anything you can do to bring a sense of ‘working from home’ into the workplace to boost productivity? Is your judgement clouded by other factors?

All of the questions above should be considered. As we have spoken about many, many times before – the best business leaders are those that listen, relate and understand their employees. If you can demonstrate that you are aware of their feelings and are doing everything you can to look out for them and offer them the best working environment possible – then your efforts will usually be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and a positive working environment. 

“I do not think the safety process is good enough”.

This is a tricky one. Now ultimately, your company should have developed a comprehensive return-to-work policy that is in alignment with the government guidelines – but there is still a possibility that some employees may challenge the measures that have been implemented. The most important piece of advice here is to listen and not retaliate. Again, we fully appreciate how difficult the last year or so has been and all of that hard work that has gone into new tasks such as designing and implementing a return-to-work safety program and to have employees’ question and challenge it is likely to provoke retaliation rather than collaboration. Step back. Breathe. 

The best safety policies are those that encourage employees to be involved as much as possible. So, if a member of the team expresses concerns, the most effective process would be to solicit their feedback and if it is reasonable and makes sense, implement that feedback accordingly. 

Nevertheless, if you have followed government guidelines and it is imperative to the business that the workforce return to the office, then you may have to diplomatically tell the employee in question that you appreciate and understand their perspective, however you must insist that they return to work. If there are still problems that cannot be resolved, you will need to be able to show that you have evaluated all of the concerns in the situation and tried to reach an amicable agreement. If you get this far down the line and you are yet to come to a solution, then invoking the aid of a HR team like Kingswood Group is the best solution for your business.

Kingswood Group

As we said at the top of the article, each business will experience different scenarios. This can be a really tricky time with emotions, concerns and worries at the forefront of all communications. 

Whatever your predicament, our expert team here at Kingswood Group are here to help you and your business get back to work and reach your goals as we slowly but surely head towards a world that is no longer crippled by Coronavirus. Contact us today and get a FREE consultation with our experienced team: https://kingswoodgroup.org/contact/


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