We spoke to LinkedIn HR expert Justin Black on how to manage the stress of the economy opening up, the return to workplace, and genuine employee safety fears


Juggling childcare, unfamiliar IT, and remote working while trying to keep our family safe and educated has been stressful enough these past few months of lockdown. Now offices are opening up and the return to the workplace presents another new source of stress for employees.


After all, we will be thrust back into a faster pace of life than we have become accustomed to and interacting with others and navigating the office environment according to a very different set of COVID-19 imposed strictures.


The dread of FOMU


There’s even a new acronym to define this most up to date of anxieties: ‘FOMU’—Fear Of Meeting Up, describing the concerns many of us will have when it comes to being surrounded by colleagues in person instead of over Zoom after months of life in the lockdown.


The pressure of the return to the workplace and unusual working conditions imposes an increased risk of burnout and significant declines in mental wellbeing. This is coming along against a backdrop of personal burnout issues having increased over the initial lockdown period. Glint has compiled data showing the impact of months of furlough or homeworking on employee well-being.


The data, drawn from more than 700,000 employees worldwide, shows that feelings of personal burnout doubled from March to April (from 2.7% to 5.4%), suggesting it’s a growing threat. Tellingly, the poll also showed that employees who said they struggle with balancing their personal and work lives were 4.4 times more likely to exhibit signs of burnout, and that the effect was 2.3 greater for employees who feel overwhelmed by their workloads.


Even in normal circumstances managers need to communicate with their teams, and these unusual working conditions make it all the more critical to keep in touch with how they’re doing and what support they need to work effectively. But how do you prepare your teams for a safe, non-FOMU, return to work?


Make sure you keep surveying your people. Deploying a short pulse survey to your employees can uncover practical advice to make their return to the workplace safe and effective. Make sure you include free-form comments, as this will help ensure you’re capturing their true feelings, and give them the opportunity to suggest solutions. Questions should encompass: wellbeing, general support, communication, manager support, return concerns (such as commute, childcare, safety, workload and remote working), and their ideal work setting. Our findings to date reveal highly localised employee needs, suggesting that getting survey results into the hands of managers right away is more important than ever.


Regular check-ins are the best way to facilitate actions based on survey insights, as they build trust, ensure effective prioritisation, surface issues, and prompt ongoing actions. Regular one-on-one meetings are an important practice in advance of and throughout the transition back to the workplace. Make sure you are maximising the benefits of the encounter by listening more than you speak in order to create space for your employees to share their experiences. Show empathy and share your own experiences, when appropriate. Stay on top of communication from leadership and make sure everyone leaves the conversation with a clear idea of how to prioritise time, which priorities need to shift, and when you’ll have the next check-in.


With new demands, a new working environment, and new goals come new opportunities to learn. Glint’s research has shown that as they return to the workplace, 62% of employees expect more time to learn new skills, especially among individual contributors. A regular conversation habit gives people a chance to discuss learning opportunities relative to business priorities on an ongoing basis.


As we adjust to a new work situation, it’s important for organisational leaders and managers to take these steps and keep FOMU, burnout, and wellbeing concerns under control. That way, we can make the return to work as safe and productive as possible.


The author is Head of People Science at employee engagement leader Glint, part of LinkedIn