Vaccines may be on the way, but there is still going to be a good amount of time before things are back to ‘business as usual.’ In the interim, employers should continuously emphasize what they are doing – beyond what is mandated – to show a genuine care for their people. In some cases, that means slowly integrating employees back to the workplace. But bringing some people back while others remain home has led to some perceived unfairness among coworkers.
“Why are “they” allowed to continue to work from home when I can’t?”
For hybrid workplaces, how does an employer or supervisor decide who may continue working remotely and who should be at the organization's physical site(s)? And with that, how do they maintain a level of fairness when some are being asked to return, while others are remaining home?
How to Manage Employee Feelings of Unfairness
There will undoubtedly be growing tensions and feelings of unfairness between the workers who need to return to the office and those who can continue working remotely.
These perceptions of unfairness are at the forefront of many HR initiatives in the workplace and have historically been achieved through standardization of practices. The pandemic has flipped these standards on their head, and employers are forced to differentiate their employees for their own safety and to comply with new laws that have come out of the pandemic.
There may be legal or policy restrictions in place to limit the number of employees allowed back in the workspace, and some employees may internalize these rules in the wrong manner. The diversity of talent and competencies are what drive successful businesses. But now, it could serve as a wedge between those who are forced to return to the office and those who are told to continue to work from home. This division may impart feelings of unfairness from both sides. Those who are told to come back to the office may feel that it is unfair that their colleagues can continue to work from home- without the need for a commute, the fear of exposure to the virus, or the adaptation to new office procedures. On the other hand, those who are told to remain at home may be feeling as though they are secondary, dispensable cogs in a machine.
It is important that employers get in front of these feelings and help everyone manage them. Employees are onsite, presumably, because their job simply cannot be done (or done as effectively) at home. Assuming this is true, then the issue is less about fairness than it is about the perception of fairness. How does an employer overcome these perceptions? This is done through a combination of factors, including expressing to these employees how much their presence is valued, and ensuring that any safety measure that can be taken is taken.
Furthermore, the employer should also be asking if there is anything more that they can do to reduce this perception or generate alternative ways to promote fairness. If an employee is lacking the requisite items or tools to do certain tasks at home, rather than pooling them with the ‘onsite’ group, maybe there is an opportunity to provide them the proper tools to continue their work remotely. For those who have anxieties or limitations of returning to work, finding different ways to help them will not only reduce any sentiment of preferential treatment, but will also show to employees that their concerns are both valid and heard.
Creating an environment where you can mix the best interest of the company with the health of its people is how managers will continue to foster the healthiest atmosphere until there is a return to normalcy. Asking coworkers if they have their own ideas on how to decrease any unfairness or perceived unfairness through company action will allow them to have a voice, and possibly generate new ideas to navigate these tumultuous times. A culture of inclusion and fairness is difficult to cultivate when there are alleged inequalities, so mending that gap will only benefit the culture of the company going forward.
By Noah Gassman
December 10, 2020