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Re-Onboarding and Re-Energizing the Workforce

Strategically approaching a return to work

Two women wearing face masks in an office.

​As the world slowly begins to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations need to focus on strategies to assist employees. How do we ensure success with a phased-in return to work? Re-onboarding and welcoming all employees back are critical for re-engaging the workforce. Open communication during this process will impact the organization's culture, internally and externally, moving forward. Here are a few tips to approach the task successfully:

  • Reimagine the stay interview. Organizations are finding success with a stay-interview format to address employees' needs and concerns. Re-engineer the model to focus not just on staying with the organization, but on what the individual employee needs to re-engage with the workforce. Questions should focus on the employee's issues, such as flexibility, wellness, etc. These discussions will provide the organization with insights into changes that leadership can make in those areas. The HR competencies of Consultation and Leadership & Navigation will play an extremely important role in strategic decision-making.
  • Implement social distancing and safety requirements. Look for guidance from federal, state and local government entities on social distancing and safety requirements in the workplace, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Continuous communication with the workforce about these measures will ensure consistency throughout the organization. Implement specific training and communication channels, if necessary. Hold the workforce accountable to expectations. Communication, Critical Evaluation and HR Expertise are some of the many competencies that will be deployed.
  • Use communication to build trust. As we get used to new expectations, communication will play a pivotal role, not only in re-energizing the workforce, but also in setting the tone for organizational culture. Does the organization really care about the workforce? Or is it focused just on the bottom line? For organizational leaders, the choice really is simple: Treat people how you want to be treated. Hear workers' concerns and respond to their questions. Closing the loop of communication is critical to building trust and enhancing culture in any organization.

As we return to full employment, every leader and every organization will learn lessons from this pandemic that will guide us in making decisions with impact. Approach the re-onboarding experience as a crucial piece of a successful and full recovery for your organization. Focus on the needs of the employee in the same way you focus on the needs of the customer—yes, it's that important. We have an obligation to do the right thing for every employee in every organization.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC, Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources and industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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