Planning a return to the office? Three tips to allay your people’s fears

By Heather Campbell

Heather here!

Confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine is growing, according to a global survey.  And as confidence grows, worry about its side effects is declining. This research highlights the all-important inverse relationship between confidence and fear. 

The relationship is clear – for confidence to increase, fear must decrease. The opposite of confidence is not simply a lack of confidence. The opposite of confidence is fear. 

The balance between confidence and worry (or fear) doesn’t just apply to the Covid-19 vaccine, of course. This is a critical balance that every leader should be paying attention to in any work situation. But it’s more important now than ever because there’s so much more worry in our workplaces. Fears that are increasingly emerging in conversations I’m having with leaders relate to returning to the workplace. 

  • Is it safe to return to the workplace?
  • Will people return to the workplace?
  • What will the workplace look like in the post-Covid world?

There’s still a lot of uncertainty around. If you want people to return to the workplace, or to adopt different ways of working, or deal with any other changes that might be happening right now, you must help to build confidence. And an effective route to building confidence is actually to start by reducing fear.

That’s why, in this second in a series of exploring how leaders can build confidence personally and in their workplace, I’m exploring fear, not confidence. I’m sharing with you three key things you can do to reduce the fear your team members may be feeling.

Key point first: I’ve previously shared the need to communicate with honesty and clarity at all times, and to listen to understand the other person’s perspective rather than to defend your own, so I’m not going to repeat those here. But they remain the foundation on which these other three new tips must be built.

Within that context, here are my three tips for this week:

  1. Engage on a one-to-one basis. Fears around the return to the workplace, or about job security, or whatever else is draining your team member’s confidence, are highly individualised. Even if the top line fear looks the same, the reason for that fear is likely to be different. In addition, it is far less likely that people will express their real fears in a team meeting. Fear is a personal experience, and discussing it is too. So, do not try to help people manage their fears through team or group-wide conversations and messaging. 
  2. Provide data and evidence that will allay fears. Obvious, right? Yes, but there’s something else to consider here too. Be sure to select the data and evidence that will reassure the specific individual you are talking to. This isn’t simply data that is factually accurate, although accuracy is essential. Your data and evidence must also cover off two additional bases – the person you are sharing it with must believe it is true for them which means it must be directly relevant to the person you’re sharing it with. Generalised data or data that we believe may apply to others but don’t believe applies to us, will not allay fears.
  3. Hold short, regular conversations rather than one long all-encompassing one. The latter might feel to you that the job is done but it will most likely mean that the individual is less than satisfied. People may need to hear the same information more than once because they have to process it in relation to their own fears, and they will almost certainly identify additional points they want to cover off once they digest the information you have shared. The timescale and number of conversations will vary and is a personal judgement. However, as a rule of thumb, I’d recommend you plan for three short conversations over a week to 10 days to give people time to work through their fears.

If you follow these three key tips, sharing an honest and clear message, and listening too, you will go a long way to helping individuals in your teams work through their fears and so build their confidence to move forward to whatever comes next.

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