Avoid the clash over mandates and successfully bring employees back to their desks.
For many companies, strict return-to-office mandates aren’t working, resulting in resistance and even walkouts. We expected the return to the workplace to feel positive, a signal that we were back to normal times. However, mandates that include enticements, suggestions, penalties, and coercion do not necessarily address key ingredients for breaking the return-to-office stalemate: eliminating workplace incivility and building psychological safety, trust, and resilience.
Workplace incivility includes being ignored, having one’s judgment questioned, and being addressed in an unprofessional manner. One in four workers experiences workplace incivility, fueling toxic work environments and posing a risk to psychological safety, according to meQuilibrium’s latest survey. Disturbing but less common are angry outbursts or being yelled at, accused of incompetence, or teased by co-workers. meQ’s study also revealed that on-site employees are 66% more likely to feel like mistakes are held against them, 56% more likely to say that people are rejected for being different, and 36% more likely to find it difficult to ask teammates for help.
To overcome the return-to-office stalemate, a fundamental reshaping of policies and office culture is necessary. Instead of relying solely on coercive measures, employers must prioritize trust and psychological safety and address workplace incivility.
An essential component is open and transparent communication. Employees should feel comfortable expressing concerns and fears about returning to the office. Leaders need to actively listen and be willing to adapt policies and protocols accordingly. By involving
employees in the decision-making process, organizations can build trust and a sense of ownership, which can lead to a smoother transition back to the workplace.
Equally important is implementing comprehensive training programs that tackle workplace incivility head-on and promote a culture of respect by educating employees about the harmful effects of incivility and equipping them with the necessary skills to respond appropriately. By fostering a shared understanding of respectful behavior, organizations can create a cohesive and harmonious work environment.
We need to create a climate for people to “lean in” to the benefits of working on-site. This will help reduce employee backlash and give organizations a greater ability to bring employees back to the worksite.
Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium. She helps global enterprises build resilience in order to change, grow, and succeed.