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Navigating Resistant to Ready for Returning to the Work Premises

Readying people for what comes next.

Key points

  • People are at different points of re-entry readiness.
  • Readiness for any changes requires preparedness and willingness.
  • Asking team members key questions can help move people to high levels of readiness.

This is not business as usual or a new normal.

The world is in various states of re-entry readiness and so are people. While some organizations have been business as usual throughout the pandemic, or have returned to the premises already, other organizations are using September as a "get-back-to-new-normal-work" time.

What I see in my work is that many organizations are adopting new ways of working. The pandemic highlighted the possibilities to re-imagine and re-create ways of working together. Work is being done remotely that many never thought possible. While some relish in the work-from-home setting that affords flexibility, potential savings, relocation, privacy, and more time, others just can’t wait to get back, or are already back, because they enjoy the separation of work and home and in-person connection.

As we navigate these new ways together, some challenges are also arising. You may have heard of the “great resignation”—people leaving the workforce in masses to find a life-with-work balance or live out their values and what matters most. We also see some conflicts about returning to the premises—some folks are not ready to return, or just don’t want to go back.

We are all human beings trying to navigate a new way of life and work. We are at various stages of readiness for what lies ahead. To support readiness, there are two key ingredients:

  1. Preparedness (Do I have the information, tools, resources, energy, and time I need to do this?)
  2. Willingness (Do I want to do this? Will I do this?)

The goal is to have both in alignment. You can be prepared but not willing and willing but not prepared. Neither of these combinations will yield the results you are looking for.

Get People Talking!

Leaders: Try asking your team these questions:

  • What makes a safe, welcoming, and productive work environment?

Generate as many ideas as possible. Then follow up with this question:

  • What are you personally going to do to contribute to this safe, welcoming, and productive work environment?

Leaders: Be sure you answer these questions, too. The goal is to get people talking.

Having worked with organizations around the world with the aim of increasing their levels of readiness, I have seen that these questions generate excellent conversations.

Here are a few more questions to get your team talking:

  • What has surprised you most about yourself these past two years?
  • What lessons have you learned that you want to carry forward?
  • What do you need me as your leader and/or the team to know so we can best support you?

Getting people talking helps build feelings of collaboration and respect. When an employee feels part of the process, preparedness and willingness increase.

Anticipatory Anxiety

The reality for many of us is that anticipatory anxiety, the anxiety we feel before something happens, is worse than the actual anxiety at the time of the event, like going back to the premises. (Note: I use "return to premises" versus "going back to work" because we haven't stopped working all this time). Thinking about going back to the office is actually worse than going to the office. Once you take the first action toward the discomforting event, your biology kicks in and helps you follow through. So, as teams are navigating different readiness levels, understand that talking it through and being part of the process makes a remarkable difference. And when you see evidence of anticipatory anxiety, name it. Naming the feeling takes the edge off. It doesn't make the feeling go away, but it at least puts the "thinker" back in charge!

This is a "change" season for many people. Change is hard. Change is meant to be noticeable. Many people might not like change, but change happens regardless of our personal feelings about it. We might as well up our preparedness and get willing.

More from Robyne Hanley-Dafoe Ed.D.
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