As vaccination rates rise and case counts plummet, COVID-19 appears to be waning in the United States. But the trauma of 2020 is still fresh. Many people, even if fully vaccinated, are experiencing “re-entry anxiety,” or some fear about resuming life as normal. Here are some things you can do to help your employees feel safe as they return to work.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully vaccinated people who are at least two weeks past their second shot and are not immunocompromised can generally return to their normal activities. But are you planning to check vaccine status at the door? If not, it’s likely that your employees are a mix of fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated.
Therefore, it would be irresponsible to simply return to business as usual. The CDC continues to recommend that unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated people wear masks and practice social distancing. Immunocompromised people should talk to their doctor about their level of protection. Unvaccinated people also need to quarantine for at least seven days (with a negative test) or 10 days (without testing) before returning to work after a possible COVID-19 exposure. If you are not checking vaccination status, consider erring on the side of caution and continuing to enforce masking and social distancing policies for all. Also, consider incentivizing your employees to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Talk to Your Employees
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic became highly politicized. It’s very likely that you have employees who fall on both sides of the divide, as well as several who are somewhere in the middle. Keep the lines of communication open, ask everyone to privately share their thoughts and concerns, and be willing to provide masks, wipes, and other protective gear at the company’s expense.
Offer Mental Health Assistance
Many people are just going through a temporary bout of re-entry anxiety, which will ease over time. But rates of clinical anxiety and depression went up dramatically during the pandemic. Some of your employees may need more help than you alone can provide. Whether you have a formal employee assistance program (EAP) or not, offer community-based mental health resources to your employees.
Work Together to Find Solutions
Some employees will return to work with a wish list – whether they want a total return to 2019 norms or never to set foot in the office again — and you may not be able to accommodate the entire list. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work with each employee to find a solution. For example, maybe a fearful worker could remain remote but come in once a week on a quieter afternoon. Or someone who hates masks could get a temporary private office, perhaps in a conference room, where he or she doesn’t need to mask while alone.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy and it will require workplace trends we haven’t dealt with. But with a bit of creativity, you and your team can work together to carve out a new sense of normalcy.