Part 1 of the Series on Workplace Reintegration Post-Covid-19 Vaccine: the 4 R’s of Employee Reintegration by Dr. Brad Shuck
Employee reintegration is coming. With Covid-19 vaccines being dispersed, companies must prepare to reintegrate employees proactively by setting expectations through consistent communication, acknowledging mutual anxiety through empathy, providing space for anxiety through compassion, and taking time to listen to the concerns while validating the emotions of all the people involved. This is easier said than performed.
This guide provides insights and expertise from professionals and researchers who have been thinking about these issues and concerns.
Managing the Employee Mindset: the Four R’s of Employee Reintegration
Leaders looking to reintegrate employees back into the workforce should focus on the Four R Model of Reintegration (4R Model). The four R’s are: reset, restart, recalibrate, and reinvent. Let’s take each one separately.
First, leaders will need to Reset the overall work experience. Cultural norms and ways of operating will look and may feel different in 2021. In the same way that leaders had to reset the work experience in early 2020 when organizations across the globe pivoted to remote work, leaders need to do the same as they begin to pivot back. Communication will need to be clear, consistent, and frequent. For leaders, they will be driving and defining cultural expectations again, but this time differently. One of the leading mistakes made in March 2020 was the assumption that business would just be operating as usual.
But, almost nothing operated as usual.
Overnight, dining room tables became office and conference room spaces, families were at home juggling multiple priorities with school and work, and almost all business travel was suspended. When this happened, employees had to adapt, use their creativity, and innovate new ways of getting through their todo list.
As we pivot back, working under the assumption that work will just go back to normal is a tricky and dangerous idea. There is a brave new world of work emerging and the need to reset that experience will be enormous. For many, this will be about reconnecting with colleagues they have not seen in months or doing work in a different, more technological way. For others, resetting will be about long overdue emotional and social healing.
In the same way that a world class runner sets her feet into the starting blocks before she sprints to the finish line, resetting is about getting physically, mentially, and emotionally ready to return to work. Getting our head in the game and thinking through the environmental context. There is discipline in resetting, and also clear communication, contingencies for unexpected challenges, and a mental model that has been inspired to reframe priorities and engage. Leaders will have the responsibility to reset how work is getting done, not just to focus on how much work is getting done.
TIMELINE: This should be the focus 2-3 months before you begin bringing employees back into the workplace physically.
Once cultural norms and expectations have been reset, the second effort of leaders should be focused on Restarting. This is about gaining momentum and building on the efforts of the reset. As leaders reset expectations a new working experience emerges. Leaders quite literally find themselves coming out of the starting blocks. To execute a healthy restart, leaders at all levels will need to focus on how the business has pivoted.
As our runner takes her stance and pushes through her reset, she becomes upright and leaning in to her goal. Ultimately, she has begun her stride toward the finish line. She needs mental and emotional balance and a clear line of sight to her goal and she pushes through each step with intention. Here employees should take each meeting, each day, and each week with intention for getting off the blocks to a great restart. A clear line of sight to goals, a sense of balance (or rebalance), and an intentional approach focused on short term priorities will be important. Leaders should expect mindsets to be all over the place from euphoria that they are back to sadness and depression about leaving family back at home. If you had employees who passed away during the pandemic, restarting could feel empty and a sense of loss could permeate your plan. Here is where restarting becomes so important.
When we start something, we have a clean slate and a clear path. We are beginning. When we run our race, our path is marked and we know what we need to do to get to the finish line. Restarting is an acknowledgement of the past, that something happened, but then a push forward toward a future state. It is recognition that we are emotionally, cognitively, and physically beginning again, and this time, that path could look different.
Milestones, building in opportunities for community, and space for employees to feel their way through any restart will be important during this step.
TIMELINE: Leaders should focus on Restarting 1-2 months after they complete their employee reintegration phase.
Third, Recalibrating will be critical. When we calibrate our business, we adjust operating procedures to account for external factors, or in comparison to market norms and data. When we recalibrate, using the same external factors, we adjust to new information, emerging market norms, and a dynamic operating landscape. Over the course of the last 12 months, the landscape has dramatically changed. Our runner is constantly recalibrating as she sprints to the finish. How fast should she move. How quickly she needs to move her arms to be in sync with each stride and step. Looking left to right she can see her competition and what they are doing. She recalibrates her steps with this information. Pushing into the ground, each step has a purpose.
As we look into the emerging economies of work, there is no country, no industry, no company, no team and no individual that the COVID-19 crisis did not touch in some way. In some market spaces, entire industries are different, or changed. And, some industries no longer exist. In other spaces, new industries and ideas have emerged. Recalibrating means taking new and emerging market conditions into consideration and building a plan forward that is sustainable – but doing so with intentionality. Each move needs a purpose and must be in-sync. An organization that does not take the time to recalibrate their plans — strategic, compensation, operations, supply chain, etc., — and operates under the assumption that they are running the same race they were in 2019 will be dangerously behind the curve and at a loss to retain any kind of key talent.
TIMELINE: Leaders should focus on Recalibration 2-4 months after reopening their organization.
The last R of employee reintegration is Reinvent. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many industries to rethink the way they work. As entire industries pivoted, many companies were forced to reinvent their work and product line out of necessity. Overnight, supply chains had to be sustainable and compassionate. Customer bases shifted. Product fulfillment took on new meaning.
And, now, leaders must take those lessons learned to reinvent their businesses in proactive and productive ways that define their future. With intention. For example, leaders might focus on market revenue and driving business operations using some of the more successful procedures developed throughout the pandemic. Perhaps there are outdated policies are procedures getting in the way of performance and engagement, employee-level requirements that stifle innovation, or, supply chain issues that need to be addressed.
After each race, our runner takes stock of the lessons she learned. She studies her start. Her lean into the wind. The way she calibrates and recalibrates each stride with new information. Each step overflows with data. As she learns from her past performance she reinvents her training routine, and her next race. She visualizes her future and can see herself running again. The same is true for organizations looking to emerge into 2021 with growing opportunities. For those companies who emerge in 2021, silos will fall and traditional barriers that have defined centuries of work will be redefined and reinvented. Leaders will need to be equipped to think through powerful questions, consider new strategies for engaging their workforce, and what new data points are needed to shine a beacon toward the future in ways that empower, inspire, and engage. Collaboration, capacity, and community will take on increasing importance as reintegration occurs.
Reinventing is about taking the successes from 2020 and magnifying them by reinventing the business and operations models.
TIMELINE: Leaders should focus on Reinventing 4-8 months after they complete their employee reintegration phase and then every six months after for the next 3 years. Reinventing will be a continuous cycle of performance improvement in all key business areas.
Dr. Brad Shuck is an internationally recognized thought-leader in the areas of employee engagement, leadership, and employee health and wellbeing. His evidenced-based, story-driven, and visually inspiring presentations detail how leaders at all levels can build positive and inspiring places of work that drive performance, increase employee wellbeing, and influence peak motivation. Dr. Shuck is a tenured Associate Professor and Program Director of the Human Resource and Organizational Development program at the University of Louisville and principle consultant of LEAD Research, LLC, an advanced human resource analytics consulting group focused on emerging technologies related to leadership, engagement, and design. His research and employee engagement IP is lichened by Unitonomy for OrgVitals. Learn more about Dr. Shuck at his site https://drbshuck.com/about