CIOs Need To Prepare For Employees Who Return Anxious

CIOs need to understand that some workers will be anxious about returning to the office
CIOs need to understand that some workers will be anxious about returning to the office
Image Credit: UN Women Asia and the Pacific

Now that the pandemic is staring to ease up, more and more CIOs are having their workers return to the office. However, even though your workers may return to the office, this does not mean that thing are going to be getting back to normal anytime soon. CIOs need to understand that many of their employees who are returning may feel very anxious about being in an office with other people while the Covid-19 pandemic is still going on. How can a CIO deal with this situation?

Your Employees May Be Anxious

As CIOs make plans to bring their employees back to the office, they would do well to remember this: many of those workers may be anxious. A survey of 300 working adults who used to work in the office, worked from home during the pandemic, and have been now asked to return to the office starting in the fall was conducted. When asked to indicate if they are feeling anxious about the return, 82% indicated they are. You need to understand that’s an extraordinarily high number. Note that this doesn’t include people who might be anxious for health reasons, especially as Covid numbers have started to rise again. What’s more, in a second survey, it was found that re-entry anxiety decreases your employees’ work engagement, while increasing their intentions to quit. These results still hold when gender, income, relationship status, when people will return, the number of days they will work in person, and the number of hours they work are controlled for in the study.

In other words, CIOs will pay the price if they ignore their workers’ anxiety. However, before knowing how to reduce the anxiety CIOs need to know where it’s coming from. Some of the survey respondents were able to point to an answer: employees want their CIO to make good use of what they learned during the pandemic on new ways of working. They fear that there may be a rush to return to the way things “used to be.” When your CIO expects everything to go back to normal, research shows, employee anxiety is much higher. CIOs need to understand that crises should not be wasted. If CIOs are not careful, then employees will feel that they are in fact wasting a crisis, since they keep telling workers that they’ll go back to normal, back to how they approached work before the pandemic.

The findings also point to another insight: employees were provided with the opportunity to find the way they wanted to work during the pandemic. Employees who were able to find their stride during the crisis now feel less anxious about returning if they feel they will be permitted to continue working that way, or if their CIO is interested in learning from them and their experiences. So how can CIOs translate those two insights – the employees’ fear of returning to “normal” and their concern that their insights will be ignored – into actions that will minimize their employees’ anxiety?

How To Minimize Employee Anxiety

The first thing that CIOs can do is to ask their employees for their input. This may sound like common sense, but CIOs don’t typically take time to solicit and respond to employees’ concerns and ideas. Research shows that by engaging employees in exploring new possibilities and crafting their work environment, a CIO can trigger excitement and zest rather than anxiety and dread, enhancing both performance and well-being.

CIOs need to take the time to celebrate lessons that have been learned. Make sure you allocate time to meet one-on-one with every employee during the first week that everyone is back in the office in order to reflect on the experience of lockdown and any lessons that could be carried forward. Discuss with them how your own management style and practices were different during lockdown, what did and didn’t work, and what would be effective going forward.

Make sure that you ask your employees to reflect on the “highlight reel moments” during lockdown when they realized that they were performing at their best. The research shows that when people are asked to highlight their strengths, they can go on to deliver higher levels of performance.

Remember that emotions matter. Research has shown that suppressing emotions is costly mentally and reduces your employees’ resilience. Instead of pushing emotions to the side – both their own and those of their employees – CIOs need to make space for them and learn from them. In doing so, they will gain respect from their employees and, more importantly, create the type of environments that make employees experience their work with pride.

What All Of This Means For You

CIS need to realize that the pandemic gave us all the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. For many, that meant identifying new ways of working and approaching both their work and their life. Rushing back to what work looked like before Covid-19 without reflecting on what we learned and how work could be different produces much anxiety for employees. CIOs can make the return much less stressful – for both themselves and those who work for them.

Studies have shown that the majority of workers are anxious about returning to work. This is bad news. Employees want to know that that their CIO has learned important lessons during the pandemic lockdown. During the lockdown, employees were able to determine how they wanted to work and they are concerned that if they return to the office, they may not be able to work this way. CIOs can minimize employee anxiety by asking for their input. They need to celebrate the lessons that have been learned. Have employees understand what made them work the best during the lockdown. Always remember that emotions matter.

The world that we live in has significantly changed. As we move forward, it is going to keep on changing. CIOs need to understand this. They also have to take the time to understand how their employees are feeling. The anxiety that many of them are feeling is real and has to be delt with. CIOs who can take the time to help employees through their anxiety will be rewarded with highly committed and productive employees.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What should a CIO do if an employee says that they are too anxious to come back to the office?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The world that CIOs are responsible for has changed dramatically since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. As workers have the opportunity to come back to the office, some are coming back; however, some are remaining remote. This starts to bring up a tricky question that all CIOs are going to have to deal with. For workers who have the same job, should the pay be different depending on if they are in the office or if they are remote. How this question gets answered can have big impacts on your workers and your company.