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Communication, Compassion and Common Sense

hr leadership Jul 18, 2020

With the news that workers in the UK can start to return to offices from 1st August there has, not surprisingly been some concern and worry along with a number of companies giving reassurance to their people that returns will be phased, and in come cases won't take place until 2021.

Over recent weeks I've seen more and more questions in HR groups from HR teams and HR Independents asking what action can be taken against employees who have so far refused to come back to work when the manager has told them to return, and my plea is that we need communication, compassion and common sense before forcing anyone to return.

I've seen and heard some of the following conversations (and iterations of them):

Company A wants employee A to return to the office but has told them they can use a separate entrance, use a separate kitchen and won't have to come into contact with any other people throughout the day. Employee A has refused and the manager wants to know what to do about it - seriously! Someone wants someone to stop working at home and go to an office to avoid everyone but do the same work - let them stay at home!

Company B wants employee B to return to work but they are concerned as they have a sick relative. The company has said the employee can have an office to themselves and limit the contact they have with everyone else in the office and they can stagger start and end times. Employee B would rather work at home until their relative has been given the all clear. They want to be back at work with the team but don't want to risk the health of their relative. Can the 'company' force them back to work or is it a resignation if they refuse? - Let them stay at home!

Company C has arranged a rota system for all of their people to come back to the office two days a week. They've separated all of the desks, got loads more cleaning routines in place and are temperature checking everyone at reception. Employee C has said the days they have been rotad in don't fit with childcare arrangements, what action can we take? - Er, can you change the rota to fit them, or can they keep working at home?

Company D has started to return their people to the office. Employee D has said her anxiety around lockdown has made her quite ill and she doesn't want to return to the office. She's been working from home the whole time so her anxiety can't be that high. What can we do about her? - Give her time, offer her help, phase her return, let her work from home!

And these comments are the tip of the iceberg. These are people, let's treat them as such, PLEASE!

I remain firmly of the view that we have all had different experiences during lockdown. During our back to work webinars Sam Woozley and I have focused on the four pillars of self, relationships, work and world with underlying themes of wellbeing and communication. Some of us has found lockdown easy, some of us have found it hard. Some of us have been furloughed, some of us have continued to work - at home or in a workplace. Some of us have suffered financially, some of us are financially better off. Some of us have found lockdown has improved our health and wellbeing and for some of us it has taken its toll. Some of us have enjoyed being at home, whilst others have found it tough. And this, along with our individual circumstances will impact how we feel about lockdown lifting and the return to the workplace for some imminent.

I've made no secret of my mental health challenges. When lockdown started, as an introvert who works from home a lot when not with clients, I thought lockdown would be a breeze, not much different than normal. And yet the news, the fearmongering and the longer that lockdown continued all played a part in increased anxiety. I've been out a few times, and each time whilst I've survived, my anxiety levels have been through the roof, on one occasion I had a full blown panic attack. I've had days when even taking the dog for a walk hasn't happened because my anxiety has been at an all time high.

Last Sunday we went to a restaurant as a family to celebrate my partner's birthday and once there it was fine, but the thought of going and the journey there were tough. This morning I've been to get my haircut, and whilst less anxious than last week, I could quite easily have cancelled if my hair hadn't started to look like a bird nest.

I've been to the office a few times over the last few weeks to run virtual workshops for clients, this was made easier by the fact that The Chrysalis Crew are the only tenants in a new building, no harm of coming into contact with anyone. And we'll be continuing to work from home as a team until September at the earliest at which point we'll review the situation again.

For the most part, our clients are looking at phasing returns from September with some making no changes until the new year whilst arranging team days in safe environments. More and more are embracing home and flexible working and some are even talking about closing their offices completely - I ask that you don't make any decisions without speaking to your people first. Some need and want the structure of the working day, some need and want to get out of the house and some are happy being at home and choosing their own hours. Whatever you choose, do so please once you've spoken to your people, understood their needs and used some common sense.

But please, whatever you are doing, speak to your people. Understand their circumstances, show some compassion, have some patience, use your common sense and put your people first. Will some people take the piss? quite possibly yes. But we cannot penalise everyone because of one or two people. We've already been doing this too long with our ridiculous policies and procedures.

Now more than ever, and I know I sound like a broken record now, the leaders that put their people first will be the ones who thrive in the future. If you are already considering taking action against your people because they want to do what's best for them, for now, you don't deserve to have people working for you.

Speak to your people, show some compassion and use your common sense.


Kelly is an Executive Coach and Global Empowerment Coach for Leaders and HR Professionals at and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew. She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.


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