Just like a snowflake, every lockdown experience is unique.
Sadly, some people have lost their livelihoods, while others have thrived working at home. Many have been ill or bereaved, whilst also having to juggle a hastily created timetable of additional caring or home-schooling responsibilities.
Now, as employees start returning to their original places of work, questions will be asked, and vastly different stories told, about how our lives have changed over the past year.
During that time, workers have also been naturally separated into new and distinct groups, such as those who could work from home and those who couldn’t, or the vaccinated and non-vaccinated.
In a recent article for the Financial Times, David D’Souza, membership director of the CIPD, referred to the looming threat of “organisational resentment” once employees are finally back in the office together.
“You had a group of people who had hugely different perceptions about the other’s experience, and they were coming into contact with each-other,” he said, citing the “frayed tempers and angry words” that followed those returning to work after lockdown was lifted briefly last year.
Stuart Duff, of the business psychology firm Pearn Kandola, also warns of a “hidden workplace divide” once furloughed employees return to the office with their non-furloughed colleagues.
By their invisible nature, such divides could be hard for leaders and managers to spot at first, particularly when everybody is so busy planning the operational practicalities involved in welcoming employees back to their workplace.
However, if left unchecked, resentment can lead to wider disengagement, job dissatisfaction, and a corrosive sense of mistrust, which can impact negatively on wellbeing and performance.
So, what can organisations do to ease any potential resentment brewing amongst their returning staff?
Encourage open and honest dialogue
Talking openly may feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s important to get any feelings of resentment straight out into the open.
That way, they can be properly acknowledged and addressed before they lead to deeper issues.
Guided, open conversations will give everybody a chance to air their feelings, as well as providing a welcome opportunity to hear alternative points of view – remembering that the grass tends to appear greener on the other side.
For example, non-furloughed employees may be resentful of the fact that furloughed colleagues are still entitled to paid leave during the summer, when they’ve already spent so much time at home, not working.
Yet hearing from furloughed employees about the stress and insecurity they felt whilst stuck at home with nothing to do, may help to alleviate those initial feelings of anger.
Work on building an environment of trust and fairness
Resentment will ease naturally, if employees genuinely believe that their organisation has everybody’s best interests at heart.
Managers can build trust within their teams by making accountable decisions, sharing the bad news as well as the good, and by taking time to get to know each team member as an individual.
You will also need to ensure that your organisation’s employment policies, particularly performance management and reward systems, are transparent, well-communicated, and treat everybody fairly.
Sincere appreciation goes a long way
Whatever your employees’ individual circumstances, they are all in the process of adjustment following a seismic period of change and uncertainty.
As an organisation, showing genuine appreciation for their efforts is likely to go a long way towards easing any feelings of discomfort and resentment.
This could range from a simple, specific “thank you”, to giving personalised gifts, or even providing a slap-up Friday breakfast for everyone!
The CIPD have produced a regularly updated knowledge hub to support employers in responding to the changes wreaked by Covid-19.
If you would like to discuss any specific concerns, or ask questions that relate to your organisation, please get in touch.