After the significant disruptions of the past three years, business leaders frequently use the phrase “back to normal” to describe how they expect their employees and businesses to function. However, “normal” can look very different from what was considered standard operating procedure before the pandemic.
A company’s return to work can be more difficult than expected due to unforeseen circumstances, no matter how well it has prepared for its workers’ return. After speaking with thousands of executives about getting back into the workplace, I’ve found that three factors stand out as particularly difficult to overcome when trying to reduce absenteeism.
1. We need to do something about the lack of affordable child care and shift attitudes about calling out sick from work.
The need to take care of children is a barrier that prevents parents from consistently attending work. According to research conducted by McKinsey & Company in the year 2021, roughly one in five students misses 15 or more school days annually. Workplace absences due to child care have increased to an all-time high this season due to RSV, Covid, and the flu. Abha Bhattarai writes, “According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 Americans missed work last month due to child-care problems, an all-time high that is surprisingly even greater than during the peak of the pandemic.”
As partners and business leaders, we understand the importance of improving schools’ ventilation systems to keep students, teachers, and parents in the building where they belong: the classroom. (For full disclosure, my company, along with others, sells air purification solutions.)
Creating safe and supportive learning environments is essential for kids and their families to start feeling “normal” again, but we also need to acknowledge that things have changed. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for workers to come into the office despite feeling a bit under the weather, which only spread the virus further. Teams can take care of themselves and their sick children with the help of flexible work-from-home policies, which can help prevent these interoffice outbreaks.
2. Foster less dangerous commutes.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, a good commute is the first step in getting back to work. People’s physical and mental well-being may benefit from getting around by walking, biking, and public transportation. Getting around town without a car is also helpful for the planet.
Those in positions of power can be urged to make public transportation safer, more convenient, and healthier for all Americans. For instance, we work with transit companies to upgrade their ventilation and air quality systems. What we’ve learned from these collaborations is that many metropolitan areas have the resources to invest in new systems and innovative ideas in order to make improvements and increase ridership. The best way for other companies that can provide assistance to gain the cooperation of local authorities is to earn their trust and provide them with workable solutions.
We have a responsibility as employers to do what we can to facilitate our employees’ daily commutes to and from work. We can help our employees get to work safely and responsibly while protecting the environment by providing them with commuter benefits, such as stipends for public transportation or bicycle equipment. Business owners may also consider letting their staff set their own schedules to accommodate commuting during less busy hours, though this may not be feasible in all sectors.
3. Take care of your health.
The topic of employee health and well-being has gone mainstream. Research shows that when people’s well-being is negatively impacted, it can have repercussions in both their personal and professional lives. They may be less productive at work, more likely to make mistakes, and require more time off. When an employee’s mental health is poor, their work environment is stressful, and they have few resources to rely on, they may consider “quiet quitting” or leaving their job permanently.
There is a direct link between an employee’s mental health and the company’s bottom line, and employers can play a significant role in assisting workers in making positive changes to their own mental health. I believe it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for our teams. Health insurance should cover mental health services, and we should allow for mental health days, promote a healthy work-life balance, and foster cordial relationships among employees and management. Financially, it’s a good investment as well. Mineral found that businesses that listened to their staff and changed with them fared best during the pandemic.
The prospect of having to alter the habits they’ve developed over the past three years of telecommuting has many employees feeling anxious. Stress and even thoughts of quitting the job have been known to be triggered by the prospect of spending time in a crowded elevator, conference room, or commute. Accepting these challenges and showing you care about the health and safety of your staff and their families both at and outside of work will go a long way toward getting people back in the door.