In March of this year, COVID-19 officially arrived on our doorstep.The resultant pandemic rudely and very abruptly disrupted our lives. It also brought about significant change, both on a personal and professional front. Casual, carefree excursions and get-togethers are now part of our pre-COVID past and the work environment is being forced to undergo constant adaptation or face total obsoletion. Yet, despite the countless steps being taken and precautions being put in place by individuals and companies alike, the risk of contracting the disease remains a real and ever-present threat.
The various levels of lockdown imposed since April have seen the vast majority of companies completely shut down physical operations and, wherever possible, enter the domain of the remote environment. Online meetings, calls and chats became the norm and companies quickly adopted the new way of working to keep their business wheels turning.
Now, six months later, as we slowly move down the lockdown levels, more and more companies are reopening their doors and employees are returning to their places of work. But, while many are relieved and perhaps even excited to be back at the office, one has to wonder whether this is the right move for companies to make.
On the surface, forcing the return of employees seems like the logical thing to do. After all, if our government has given us the green light, it must be okay, right? Well, companies would do good to first consider the impact of such a course of action. Having everyone return to the office simultaneously could mean opening everyone up to a COVID-related catastrophe. For example, just think of the high-risk individuals who would be putting their lives on the line every day for the sake of their employers. And, in certain companies where the correct preventative measures have not been put in place or the measures implemented are not correctly monitored, the result could quite literally be deadly.
In addition to the serious health implications involved, forcing employees to return to the workplace might create discontent or resentment among the workforce, who may feel like employers value their profit more than their people.
It can thus be argued whether employees – and not employers – should be allowed to decide when they return to the office. Giving employees the freedom to make this decision for themselves means allowing them to protect their physical and mental health by giving them the opportunity to return only when they feel safe and at ease to do so.
This kind of arrangement has the potential to frustrate those who manage a team and prefer having everyone within ear- and eyeshot. But that’s where the miracle of modern-day tech comes in. Easy-to-use programs like Microsoft Teams and Zoom enable employers to keep the lines of communication open with their subordinates and, at the end of the day, ensure that work is still getting done. In essence, it’s about changing people’s patterns and perspectives rather than their physical location.
In addition to shifting perspectives, giving employees a say in company logistics can be perceived as a shift in power. However, while placing that kind of decision-making authority in the hands of employees may make companies nervous, the potential benefits of doing so are likely to make it worth everyone’s while. According to Camille Preston, Ph.D., there is an undeniable link between employee happiness and productivity, with happy employees being up to 20% more productive than their unhappy counterparts. That percentage is even higher in the case of salespeople, whose sales have been shown to skyrocket by37% when happy.1
What makes employees happy? It may not be as complicated as you think. In his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni states that one of the key factors to happiness in the workplace is wanting to feel like who you are as a person matters.2 And what better way to show employees that they matter than by making their health and overall peace of mind a genuine priority?
In a nutshell: employees who are made to feel like they matter are not only happy, they’re also far more productive. But what about customers? Surely they matter, too? Of course they do, but their experience boils down to the very same thing, namely employee happiness.
We need to remember here that employees are representatives of the companies they work for and the ones with whom customers interact. So, if they’re disengaged and demotivated, this will be felt by customers. On the flipside, if they’re positive and productive, they’ll increase their efforts when it comes to building and maintaining customer relationships. Customers are bound to notice – and appreciate – the attentive service of dedicated employees and will more likely than not return for more of the same. More returning customers means a more attractive bottom line and in an embattled economic climate like the one we’re in, that’s certainly somethingworth striving for!
By Brenda Joubert
1Preston, C. 2017. Promoting Employee Happiness Benefits Everyone. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/
2Preston, C. 2017. Promoting Employee Happiness Benefits Everyone. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/