It’s Hard on Leaders, and Scary for Everyone

The message was one of the hardest I’d ever had to send to the team. It simply was, no matter how upbeat I tried to make it, disheartening.

Despite all of the vaccinations, we were going back to wearing masks in the office. Back to Zoom staff meetings instead of wheeling our chairs together. Back to social distancing.

On top of the heavy message, I found the delivery method to be almost as exhausting. There were several people in the office, but not everyone. Everyone needed to hear (or read) the same message from me. So, email it was. An impersonal method. Just words to read on a screen, where it’s hard to convey the weight on my shoulders and weary tone in my voice.

Everyone, though, understood. They were thankful for the thought of safety first. I’m incredibly lucky to have a group who works together so closely, keeps eyes on each other, and demonstrates the care for one another – regardless of distance between us, only seeing half of a face, or having to use more electronic messaging than we’d prefer.

As our area buckles down for Wave 5 (or whatever one it is, I truly do forget) of this pandemic, I continue to hear one of the biggest holdbacks of potential employees is workplace safety. People are still scared regardless of their vaccine status. And the variations that continue to evolve only make the interactions with others in person scarier, from a physical health standpoint.

It makes me think about those COVID safety plans which were required when we began to open up initially. Have they collected dust within most organizations? When was the last time it was reviewed, updated with the newest insights on maintaining a safe environment? Are there voiced concerns about safety that haven’t been addressed? By that, I mean: have they been investigated to the extent they should, have changes (if any) been implemented, and have the results been communicated back to that employee so that they are reassured?

The data backs this notion of fear being a deterrent in returning to the workforce: according to the Workforce Monitor survey conducted by the American Staffing Association, 57% of people have a fear of catching COVID while at work, or during their commute to work because of public transit. Another survey, Eden Workplace Return to Office survey, shows that 61% of respondents want strict enforcement of COVID-related workplace regulations by their employers.

What might these efforts look like, from a practical view? There was an employee I knew about who had so many concerns that he was ready to walk off of the job. This was about 4 months into the pandemic. He was so scared he was willing to give up his job. One of the HR managers stopped him on his way out the door. She asked if they could sit down and talk about it. He agreed. Turns out, this employee just needed to talk through those fears, but he had been so buried in them that he couldn’t see any other resolution to his situation other than to quit. The HR manager, however, was able to look at it from another viewpoint. What happened? All it took was to set up a sanitization station right by his workspace, complete with a bottle of hand sanitizer, a pack of cleaning wipes, a stack of masks and a sign to remind people on social distancing. His fears were eased, and he went back to work.

In another situation, it seemed that those on the plant floor were forgetting some of the safety protocols put in place initially to help stop the spread of COVID. The concern was raised to management. Along with having conversations with individual employees, the organization decided to hold weekly stand-up meetings at the beginning of each shift, where everyone was given a reminder about COVID protection standards. These 5-minute weekly meetings helped to instill the practices within the entire workforce, and those who had fears found to be less worried because the employer demonstrated taking safety seriously.

It’s the role of leaders, managers, supervisors to invite the conversation. It’s human nature to want to care for one another, and now is the time we need to show that to each other. These are the things which will keep a workforce feeling comfortable enough to venture into their place of business while we all continue to fight our way back through this pandemic.

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