In our Return to Work Playbook, we outlined two major ‘buckets’ your employees probably fall into right now: survivors and thrivers.
Both have their own challenges as you start bringing the business back to work. And if you don’t treat their unique needs, their unhappiness can worsen fast – and soon become contagious.
Here’s how to identify survivors and thrivers, then personalize your reboarding efforts to support them.
Survivor or thriver: What to look out for?
Here’s what you’re looking for. Or, more accurately, listening for.
Because none of these signs are easy to spot in their earliest – and easiest to remedy – form, the only way you’ll get there is by having good conversations, where employees feel safe to confide. (That’s why we keep harping on about the importance of check-ins!)
Survivors have just about been coping with lockdown and work-from-home. Just.
Maybe they’re facing extraordinary personal pressure, like caring for elderly relatives, home-schooling kids or becoming the sole breadwinner. Perhaps they struggle with change and uncertainty, and they’re anxious about the future, especially if you’ve had to make layoffs.
Perhaps they’re fearful for their health; their job; their team; their family. Perhaps they’re battling low morale and low confidence.
The point is, they’re not in a great headspace.
What happens if survivors go untreated?
Without support, survivors could become a shadow of their former working selves. Poor job satisfaction spirals into low commitment into poor performance.
And then the signs are easy to spot, because now they’re line items on your monthly reports, as turnover climbs. And on the CEO’s agenda, as profitability falls.
Thrivers have been loving lockdown and work-from-home. Seriously. This whole work-from-home malarkey has given them a new lease of life.
They might feel the culture suits them so much better, for example, and have rediscovered a work/life balance they never realized was possible. They could feel more motivated and more productive; like work’s really working for them now.
And that’s a problem, precisely because it doesn’t look like a problem.
Thrivers are easy to neglect, as you’re working hard to support survivors. But people who’ve blossomed while working-from-home can easily wilt when normality resumes.
What happens if thrivers go untreated?
Maybe this ‘new normal’ starts to feel like ‘the same old problems’. But now, thrivers know what work/life balance feels like. They know what not commuting an hour to the office in rush-hour traffic feels like.
Their expectations have changed, and the status quo isn’t good enough anymore.
And then the signs are easy to spot. Like with survivors, poor job satisfaction, low commitment, poor performance, high turnover and falling profitability aren’t far behind.
Read more: The Future of Work Beyond COVID-19
Let’s talk about how to treat them, with personalized reboarding support.
Three tips for reboarding survivors
The best way you can support survivors is making them feel safe, physically and psychologically.
Create a higher-touch experience
Check-ins are super important for all employees. But they’re especially important for survivors, who typically have more immediate, pressing emotional needs at the moment.
Survivors need to feel supported and nurtured, from managers and HR. Be proactive about setting check-in time: don’t wait for employees to come to you with problems. Normalise HR’s role as everyday supporters, not ad-hoc problem-solvers.
A buddy system could also be great idea. The point is, make sure survivors have an ample at-work support network.
And communicate, communicate, communicate! Don’t try to protect survivors from difficult truths – be transparent, so everyone knows you’re levelling with them and can be trusted.
Survivors are often more at-risk of burnout, even if their workload hasn’t increased (which it might well have, if you’ve had to make layoffs). Stress and anxiety take energy to sustain, so everyday tasks demand more computing power.
Global employee burnout rates doubled from March to April, according to extensive analysis Glint shared their recent re:engage 2020 talk.
Encourage managers to work closely with survivors to balance their workload. (Re)setting clear performance goals is also useful, to codify exactly what employees should be working towards. Lack of clarity exacerbates anxiety.
Goals should also be achievable. For survivors, reboarding is no time for stretch goals. A well-defined project could work wonders, for example, helping survivors focus and build confidence.
Just like onboarding, early quick wins spiral into growing confidence, boosted morale and increased long-term productivity.
Double-down on office safety
Some employees mightn’t have rubbed shoulders with anyone from outside their household in months. In that context, coming back to the office is a massive shock to the system. Psychologists suggest people could struggle with post-traumatic stress, for example.
To help smooth the transition, it’s crucial your survivors know you’re doing everything possible to keep them safe.
Evaluate your actions so far – are there other steps you could take (even if they feel like over-kill)? Have you communicated your efforts comprehensively, or is info hidden in a dark corner of your intranet? How will you manage employees who don’t comply, to keep the whole workforce feeling safe?
Three tips for reboarding thrivers
The best way you can support thrivers is reassuring them you’re moving forwards from here, not backwards.
Embrace collaborative decision-making
COVID-19 has been a pilot for loads of ideas you were probably talking about, or trialling – like flexible working. Thrivers offer a huge growth opportunity for your business, to help you build positive momentum around true, valuable cultural change.
Seize the opportunity – and show you understand this is an opportunity – by starting a conversation with thrivers.
Ask what’s worked. Involve thrivers in brainstorming how to make those changes continue. Set-up a focus group, for example. Encourage collaborative decision-making around next steps.
Read more: 3 mission-critical questions to ask your employees right now
Champion openness to change
There’s no point seeking input if the business is closed to change. It’s hard to justify hard no’s after such a world-of-work redefining event.
Prove thrivers can trust you to represent their best interests, by championing openness to change. Take the fight to the C-Suite if you need, because you might face resistance.
Data’s your friend. Collate data from pulse surveys and cross-reference against (if you have it) data on productivity and performance. Longer-term, turnover. This is your chance to push through huge changes that you couldn’t six months ago.
Build a business case for a new-look for your business, if that’s what the data’s suggesting. We’ve said before – COVID-19 is a line in the sand. It makes sense that maybe everything’s changed. Thrivers want to know you know that. That you’re hearing their input and you’re fighting for changes that make sense.
Remind them WHY they love being here
Helping employees connect to your business’ purpose is a crucial element of onboarding – reboarding is no different. Especially for thrivers, who could easily lose their sense of purpose when they’re focusing on the mechanics of work, like whether you work from home or the office.
Refocus energies on why you all do what you do. HR one-to-ones could be a good start. Or you could ask the CEO to record a short video, like you might for new hires. Employee discussion groups could also work well, encouraging people to share their feel-good customer impact stories.
Help thrivers refocus on the bigger picture instead of the granular, to help increase engagement. To buy you time to (hopefully!) make changes to the granular business-process stuff that might need an overhaul.
These are uncharted waters. Your people have had different experiences of - and reactions to – lockdown. So they need different support as you start bringing them back to the office. Best-practice reboarding means meeting employees where they are; personalizing their experience to their needs.
Download our Return to Work Playbook now to discover the five principles for bringing your people back to work successfully. So survivors and thrivers can both blossom.