by Amy Jenkins | May 21, 2020

Businesses are looking to reopen, which brings a certain amount of relief to employees who may have been unsure of whether or not they would have a job to come back to. But it also brings about anxiety. Employees may be worried about their health and safety, caring for their children or family members, or a myriad of other concerns that are all relevant. These are important concerns organizations need to consider as they begin communicating return to work messages. But don’t make assumptions in a vacuum about what these concerns are and how to overcome them. Getting employee feedback on your process can make this an easier transition for everyone.

Ask employees what they need to see, hear, and know before they can return to work with confidence. Not only will this make employees feel valued, but it will also help employers get businesses up and running more quickly because they can prepare a reopening plan that puts employee needs at the center. And this allows comms, HR, and ops teams to put together clear communication about employee health, safety, and any assistance the company can provide. 

Here are tips for successfully implementing a “return to work” survey.

1. Target surveys or questions to different groups of employees. A blanket survey may not be appropriate for employees working in different parts of the business. Employees who may still have the option to work from home vs those that will be coming back to the manufacturing floor may have different needs and expectations. It’s important to make all employees feel recognized for the unique challenges of their positions.

2. Share the survey and communications plan with managers first. Employees may be apprehensive to honestly answer questions such as if their availability has changed or if they have concerns about returning to work. It’s important for managers to know the intentions of the survey and reinforce that employees should answer honestly, so the company can best support them. This is less concerning if a strong culture exists and trust has been established by senior leaders, but it’s always important for managers to know the plan first to support the overall message and their people. 

3. Ensure the survey is accessible by all employees. Make sure that the survey is distributed through channels that all employees have access to. Many employees’ feedback is missed when surveys are only distributed through email or the intranet. These are channels that many frontline employees either don’t have access to, only can access on the job site, or aren’t accessed frequently enough to catch a time-sensitive message. The managers will again play a key role here as they will need to contact their employees directly to ensure they know there’s a survey that needs to be completed.

4. Have a plan for responding to feedback. As the survey is being written, communications and HR teams need to be working with leadership on solutions for many different outcomes of the survey. For example, if 25% of employees say that they are concerned about returning to work because they don’t have childcare, organizations need to consider whether they will provide child care assistance, extend work from home opportunities, etc. The biggest mistake organizations make when deploying a survey is not having a timely response plan, which requires the leadership team to conduct pre-work and prepare for multiple outcomes.

The best outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve witnessed in the workplace so far is the prevalence of empathy. Senior leaders are recognizing the value of the people that make up their business and they are making considerations for the future based truly on the needs and well-being of their employees. But don’t stop getting employee feedback and acting on it after a crisis is over. This should be an engrained practice in your organization to improve engagement, retention, and culture.

May 2020
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