Why Employee Wellbeing Should Be at the Forefront of Every Back-to-the-Office Strategy
As many employees transition back to in-office work, it’s definitely not business as usual.
I’ve been back at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. headquarters in Minneapolis for a few months now on a hybrid schedule, with a few days in the office and a few days working from home each week. I admit that when we made the decision to welcome employees back to the office I felt anxious, not only for myself and my family, but for our corporate and field employees as well.
Being back in the office isn’t the same as it once was, because the pandemic changed life as we know it. Two years of working remotely has shown us how interconnected work and home life are, often blurring the lines between the two.
We’ve endured the heaviness of world events that have taken place over the past couple of years and are still weighing on the minds of many. But the pandemic also helped us see one another as our authentic selves, with diverse and complex lives that exist beyond office walls, allowing us to connect on a deeper level. Although I am back in the office, it’s never going to be like it was pre-pandemic, and it’s important for leaders to acknowledge and talk about the change as employees return to the office.
This transition reminded me of a story a friend shared with me about a military family and their new couch.
The wife, who had spent years deployed overseas, came home to find a new couch. The new couch was nice and an upgrade from their old couch, but she didn’t like it. Why? Because everything had changed, including her once-familiar living room. She had returned to a life she no longer recognized.
I’m not in any way equating the experience of that family to our experience of returning to work. But this story has touched me in ways I didn’t expect, and I couldn’t help but think of the similarities. As leaders, we can make the transition back to the unfamiliar a little easier for those around us.
Change is hard, no doubt about it. For the past two years, we’ve gotten used to a new way of working, so the thought of going back to the office can be stressful. I’ve spoken publicly about my struggle with anxiety, and returning to the office has increased my anxiety because this change takes some getting used to. I link my personal productivity to my mental wellbeing, so if I’m not checking things off my “to-do” list, I get really stressed and anxious.
With the transition back to the office, I’ve had to change the definition of what productivity means to me. At work, productivity might mean having important conversations with coworkers or grabbing lunch together, which gives me a huge lift in energy. At home, I might spend uninterrupted time working on a presentation and throw in a load of laundry. Whatever the scenario, I’m learning how to best organize my day according to my new definition of productivity.
Prioritize mental health.
Mental health rose to the forefront during the pandemic as we struggled with stress and isolation, and it continues to be a priority. Employees have been through so much during the pandemic, and the demands of work and life don’t end just because we are now back in the office.
I’m encouraging managers and leaders in my own organization to help support the mental health and well-being of their people. I promote the heck out of the benefits that RBC Wealth Management offers, including free, confidential counseling and coaching services for employees and their family members who may be experiencing stress, depression, or other mental health concerns.
Employees need to know they can receive personal support in whatever way works best for them, for example by phone or video conference so they don’t have to leave home. Our employees can even download a free year-long subscription to the Headspace meditation app. Leaders, advocate for better mental health resources and benefits at your organization, and make sure employees know how to tap into them.
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I am so grateful for the physical boundaries of the office. When I first started working from home, I worked longer hours, which wasn’t always healthy or productive. I wasn’t setting a good example as a leader because I was working when I shouldn’t have been. Leaders have to set the tone and ask ourselves whether those longer hours are helpful or hurtful.
That’s why the separation between work and home is important to me. I’m now grateful for my commute because it’s created a boundary. As I shut my laptop, jump into my car, and listen to a podcast, I make that mental shift from work to home with a definitive transition.
Flexibility is the name of the game.
With hybrid schedules, RBC Wealth Management has demonstrated its commitment to flexibility for employees. Over the past two years, it’s become clear that not every employee has to be in the office every single day, nine to five. We’ve embraced the flexibility that allows us to pick up our kids from school or be there for elderly parents when they need us.
We are also in a unique situation where our corporate employees are coming back to work in a brand-new U.S. headquarters, RBC Gateway in downtown Minneapolis. Although the building was designed with employees in mind, just like that military family’s couch, it may feel unfamiliar.
After years of working wherever best suits us, whether it’s the couch or home office, RBC Wealth Management had the forethought to develop modern, flexible work areas that allow for individual or collaborative work preferences. And we’ve also designed spaces that support employee wellbeing, inclusion, and work-life balance, including a mother’s suite for nursing mothers, a multi-faith room, and wellness rooms.
My office experience is not the same as it was pre-pandemic, and that’s okay because our lives are different now. Whether it’s redefining productivity or just getting used to wearing something other than sweatpants, getting back into the swing of things takes time and everyone moves at their own pace. As leaders, acknowledging that our work routines are not the same is a great first step.
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Shareen Luze is the head of culture and field experience at RBC Wealth Management.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.
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