When it's time to return to work... a guide for PAs

When It's Time to Return to Work by Susan Leigh

Many of us have seen first-hand how quickly our children have become disenchanted with getting up and dressed for school each day, how demotivated they've become about learning and education.

But that loss of engagement has not only happened to children during the global pandemic.

Working from home, hardly bothering to get washed or dressed for the obligatory Zoom meeting, being on furlough, perhaps being paid to do nothing or very little has turned many of us away from being the inspired, motivated career achievers we once were.

We've learned to manage on less, value different things and, for quite a few of us, rejoining the corporate or business world of early starts, long days and time spent on the road doesn't really do it for us anymore.

But town centres are needing to be revived, shops, office premises, gyms and hospitality are all needing to have life breathed back into them once again, landlords are keen to see their properties occupied and earning income. It's time to return to work.

If you're a supporting a business owner, how are you going to help to re-engage your workforce, now that it's time for everyone to start returning to work?

- Recognition of where your people are coming from, how they're feeling is an important first step in identifying where you need to focus. For you, being uniquely placed in a position of trust, your role is more important than ever. Your manager may well be looking to you for more guidance and support than before, helping them to reorientate, find their feet and re-establish their business focus. When someone has been out of their regular routine for such a long time, with all the ancillary real-time concerns they've been experiencing, perhaps about home schooling, estrangement from friends and family, uncertainty about the future, the allure of work may well have paled into relative insignificance.

- Identifying and addressing their different concerns is an important starting point. Whether you've worked with your manager for a long time or not, your role is crucial in helping them feel organised and in work mode. You 'oil the wheels' by facilitating the smooth running of their days, scheduling their appointments, fending off interruptions, almost second-guessing their requirements. When you show that you understand and care about their issues it helps your manager and colleagues to feel listened to and valued, a vital stepping-stone on the road back to your business's new normal.

- Many employees have justifiable concerns about the ending of furlough and the impact that will have on their job security, terms and conditions of employment and their financial and career prospects. And, of course, many businesses will need time to get back on their feet, perhaps using loans and negotiations with suppliers, staff and landlords to survive. The financial ramifications may need to be managed to include part-time work, working from home, redundancies and some staff becoming self-employed contractors, at least initially. Your role may be, in part, to act as a sounding-board between your manager and how other staff are feeling, able to advise and support business decisions that need to be taken.

- Open and honest communications are a positive way of demonstrating that you care, have integrity and take your role as an employer seriously. Regular staff briefings which give good, reliable information and clarity, scheduling Q&A sessions and maybe providing an open-door policy, where staff can privately discuss their specific concerns can help foster a more engaged and loyal commitment to returning to work. Again, you can act unofficial liaison between your manager and the workforce, noting which matters are in need of attention.

- Allow staff ideas and contributions, suggestions to improve business growth, to be listened to and given due consideration. Some staff may be keen to become involved in actioning their suggestions, which is a good way for them to feel directly engaged and involved in the business and its future success. By acknowledging and giving them credit for their contributions you enable them to feel more tangibly on board.

- There are those who may need a flexible approach to resuming their working hours due to a change in their circumstances. Some staff may only be able to return gradually, cautiously to their duties, finding any perceived stress or pressure overwhelming. By demonstrating that you've listened, are prepared to accommodate them as best you can and are doing everything possible to support their mental and physical safety, health and wellbeing you'll find that staff engagement should consistently start to improve.

- But don't forget about those who are super-keen to resume their career progression and have had to put their enthusiasm on hold for over a year. Nurture and encourage their drive and motivation with ongoing mentoring, exciting business development opportunities and areas of personal responsibility, like special projects or new initiatives that challenge them and suit their skills and future goals. These are the staff who could well provide the lift your business needs to revive it, ready for the next phase of your journey to success.

You, too, have had the toughest of times this last twelve months or so. Be gentle with yourself and commit to regular breaks, good self-care and a positive approach to your daily life. Supporting the revival of the business requires you to be strong and resilient, so remember the importance of healthy nutrition, regular hydration, quality sleep, exercise, fun and time with the special people in your life. You're one of the business's most important resources, so equip yourself well now that it's time to return to work.