As workers return to the office two years after the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders face new challenges brought about by remote work, changes in office environments, and how people adapt to being back in the workplace.
I started a new job during the pandemic. I loved it and found balance and happiness. I worked from home and found that I not only was able to build great work relationships, but it also allowed me to truly reconnect with my children. With my current flexible/ hybrid arrangement, I get to see them in the evenings, and I don't have to commute (Does anyone miss the commute?). I never thought I would experience this type of flexibility in my line of work, but I've found that I'm better able to balance all the balls I juggle in life (employee, mother, wife, daughter, friend, etc.).
Like many of you, I've been reading and noticing that leaders struggle with how to lead and manage employees returning to work and leaving the flexibility a remote/hybrid work schedule allows. These leaders often associate work with a place you go. But we know that work is something you do based on a shared set of values, and it doesn't have to be tied to a location.
More importantly, people still realize that many people (either themselves or their employees) are not OK. The emotional toll of the last two years still weighs heavy on people. The pace of change, the sense of loss of what was normal, the grieving of loved ones lost, and the trauma created by a global pandemic have taken an emotional toll on people. In some ways, there's a feeling of chaos. How do we find that calm place? As we strive toward balance, we as leaders must understand that employees and leaders at all levels struggle with mental health. Work-related stress can cause a lack of motivation and increased physical and emotional fatigue.
The challenges we've faced over the past couple of years have resulted in a unique set of circumstances each of us has had to process. The experience of transitioning back to a more normal way of life is different for every employee. Some workers are excited to be back in person, while others thrive in a remote work environment. Even at Maximus, we've changed our corporate office environment to be more open and collaborative without dedicated offices or desk spaces. We've embraced a hybrid model that allows people to work where they feel most productive. More and more people talk about the future of HR/Leadership and how it will require us to create customized employee experiences, meeting people where they are. The companies that figure this out earlier will be at a strategic advantage as their organizations will attract the best talent and retain the highest performers finding the balance between performance and flexibility, resulting in a better mental health situation for all.
We know the effects of mental health concerns on a business – absenteeism, low productivity, and unhappiness resulting in higher levels of turnover. It's also critical that leaders know how mental health affects employees and what they can do about it.
Most companies, including Maximus, have employee assistance programs that include wellbeing and mental health support. Leaders should talk about those programs with their employees to ensure they know about the benefits available to them. Normalize them and let your employees know that it is OK and that we are in it together!