As more states pursue phases of reopening and companies consider what it will look like to have employees return to the office, many leaders expect the need to manage ongoing worker stress and anxiety. Recent surveys have shed light on the components of employers’ return-to-work plans — if they’ve gotten started on them — and how they’ll continue to support employees likely experiencing greater stress as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.
Willis Towers Watson polled more than 200 employers in mid-April and discovered two-thirds expect their employees will be more stressed over the next three to six months; 60 percent say they’ll need to maintain employee resiliency. Coronavirus-related stress and worry have negatively affected mental health for close to half of American adults, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey revealed last month.
More than two-thirds of workers say this pandemic has resulted in the most stressful time of their careers, according to a poll by mental health provider Ginger, and 88 percent said they’ve been moderate to extreme stress during the past four to six weeks, Forbes reports.
“Right now, employees are currently experiencing more fear and anxiety than usual. The uncertainty about the state of their health, jobs, and the future are causing employees to feel heightened levels of stress,” Nancy Reardon, chief strategy and product officer at Maestro Health, told Forbes.
About 90 percent of employers polled by Willis Towers Watson said managers have stepped up in supporting employees during this time. Frequent communication with workers has become the norm. But only about one-quarter have bolstered training and development for managers; one-third plan to do so this year.
Going forward, employers should utilize “more formal and regular listening strategies such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups will be needed to keep a pulse on the employee experience amid the pandemic,” said John Jones, North America head of talent, Willis Towers Watson, in a news release.
“And employers will need to double down on training and development for managers to prepare them to support employees in what are likely to be different working environments,” Jones said.
Six in 10 companies predict work-from-home policies will stay, even once the pandemic ends; half say they’ll continue to offer flexible work arrangements, per Willis Towers Watson.
About three-quarters of those polled in late April had not yet developed a return-to-work plan, while 56 percent were in the beginning stages of crafting one, according to law firm Blank Rome, which polled more than 150 clients about workplace challenges posed by coronavirus.
C-suite executives, in-house attorneys, and HR professionals in a variety of industries weighed in.
Companies have a number of considerations to make, Blank Rome pointed out, including which employees and how many should return to the office, whether third parties should be allowed access, hygiene, protective gear and social distancing for employees and customers, Covid-19 symptom and antibody testing and communication strategies related to the virus.
Almost two-thirds plan to provide workers with masks and more than one-third will offer gloves.
More than half will require social distancing in the office, 31 percent believe they’ll stagger shifts and 27 percent will stagger return dates. About 35 percent told Blank Rome they’ll perform temperature checks on workers.
About one-third say they’ll make minor changes to the layout to accommodate distancing, more than 10 percent will make significant changes and 31 percent don’t have a plan yet. The Mayo Clinic is working with real estate companies to simulate office design aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
One respondent told Blank Rome the need for physical distancing at work could lead to a drop in productivity. Another mentioned productivity will depend on the willingness of the public to allow its techs to enter homes or businesses. If projects can’t progress, one said, furloughs might be needed until work picks up.
Guidance from state and local authorities is what will guide most company leaders as to when to re-open or take steps to bring workers back to the office, based on Blank Rome’s findings and a survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.