During the pandemic, when most of us were confined to our houses with the people we love the most, we all learned just how important it is to get away from the people we love the most.
It turns out that a little bit of compartmentalization is a good thing. Our work lives spilled into our family lives, and our children’s education became more intense than getting them on the bus and overseeing,homework. Through this, we learned that boundaries are a blessing.
Does this mean that the employee experience will be different when the pandemic is over? Absolutely. We’ll all need a big lesson in boundaries. After spending months with no separation of home and work, and then returning to work to be questioned every day about our health and perhaps have our temperatures taken, we need some boundaries for a good employee experience. As employee relations and HR leaders, we’ll be responsible for setting them, too. Let’s take a look.
Boundary 1: Health Information
In non-pandemic times, your employer doesn’t perform any medical exams except for, perhaps, a new hire physical. But, when the CDC declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the EEOC concurred, companies were allowed to take temperatures, insist on COVID testing, and ask questions about your health.
Everyone went along because everyone is concerned about their health and the health of their coworkers. Plus, companies could say, “if you don’t let me take your temperature, you can’t work.”
When the pandemic ends (and it will!), the direct threat exception will no longer exist, and suddenly those invasive questions will have to go away.
This seems like an easy change, but some employees will freak out about how the business is no longer safe. So, it’s up to us as employee relations and HR leaders to make it a good employee experience when people are still concerned about health. Will you maintain social distancing policies? Provide hand sanitizer everywhere? How will you keep people feel positive about coming into work with these new boundaries?
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Boundary 2: Working hours
Employees love flexibility, but flexibility comes at a cost. Yes, everyone wants the convenience of working around their personal life, but are you letting your job define your private life without some definition about work hours?
This is a time for Employee Relations to step in and help people create boundaries. If someone chooses to send an email at 9:30 pm, there is no obligation to respond. Don’t let other people’s flexibility be your prison. Working from home doesn’t mean always working. Employees (and their bosses) need to understand that it’s okay to say, “I’m done with work for today,” shut the computer and walk away.
Boundary 3: Childcare
One of the greatest fears managers have about allowing employees to work from home is that they will be watching their children at the same time they are trying to work. With schools and daycares closed, many parents had no choice but to homeschool, play with and supervise children all day, every day.
We suffered through this. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t as productive as it could be. Childless coworkers picked up the slack more than they wanted to, but everyone understood that these were unusual times.
Now, schools are debating their reopening plans and parents are deciding what to do. Eventually, all schools and daycares will reopen, and it will be time to get the kids out of the house, even if Mom and Dad are working from home.
Employee Relations needs to step in and make sure employees understand that this was a temporary variance--the rule is children need childcare.
Some employees may balk at this and point out that they did their jobs just fine while taking care of the little ones, but it’s a place where you’ll need to hold on fast. This is a boundary that is good for the company and good for employees. Trying to do it all leads to burnout and exhaustion. That’s not a good employee experience for anyone.
Boundary 4: Office space
While many people love working from home, this pandemic has taught many people that the office is a great thing. There is something beautiful about teamwork face to face instead of through Zoom. It’s handy when you can have water-cooler talk around the actual water cooler rather than an awkward instant messaging conversation.
But what will the office look like? Certainly, open space offices should stay dead. It turns out that some physical boundaries are good things.
You may get people running to your office to tattle on coworkers who appear sick, don’t wash their hands enough or any number of health sins.
Again, boundaries are critical here. Clear rules about sick time, clear policies about sick pay, and allowing people the flexibility they need to do their jobs will be essential to keeping your employees safe and happy.
There has been much to learn during the pandemic, and though it hasn’t been easy, we have all made the best of it for our employees. Looking forward, we can all set boundaries that will help make the road to recovery as smooth as possible.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.