4 Ways to Welcome Back an Employee Who Has Missed Work Due to COVID-19

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Rhiannon Staples, CMO of HiBob
April 22, 2024 at 4:7PM UTC

As the rollercoaster of COVID-19 continues with the rise of Omicron in many countries, HR and managers find themselves riding the wave of their people getting sick, recovering and returning to work. Welcoming team members back to the office (or home office) and keeping the rest of your people safe may not be so simple — people have different paths to recovery and different levels of comfort about returning to the office, even a virtual one.

While each individual’s return to work may look different, some things must remain the same: lead with empathy and kindness. Help your people stay comfortable and confident through the use of flexibility, benefits and technology. 

1. Welcome your people back with empathy and personalized plans.

Battling COVID-19 is no easy task, and handling it within the workplace adds additional responsibilities. While this may be stressful for HR and managers, it’s key that you don’t lose sight of the experience your employee just went through (and may continue to go through). While some employees may be out of the quarantine phase and ready to jump back in, others may have recurring symptoms for weeks or months to come, and others may need to tend to other members of their household who also contracted the virus.  

So, instead of assuming a one-size-fits-all approach to welcoming back your people, lead with empathy and kindness by working with your employee on a personal level to address their needs. Come up with a plan that enables your employee to heal or tend to others they are responsible for. Employees shouldn’t feel shy to speak up or feel pressure to push themselves while still recovering. 

Additionally, practice a zero-tolerance community for harassment. Foster a community where health-related harassment is not tolerated. At times, the pandemic has caused friction among employees who have differing opinions on the virus, vaccines and COVID-19 guidelines. 

An employee may feel vulnerable or ashamed about having contracted COVID-19. If an employee was out of office for a while with the virus, make it acceptable for them to catch up on their work in a setting where they aren’t left feeling “guilty” or “slacking” for being out of commission. If HR and company executives lead with empathy, ultimately, empathy will trickle down amongst the organization. 

2. Provide your people with flexibility and resources.

As cases skyrocket, understand that employees want flexibility in how they work — not only with days in the office but also with hours. In fact, in a recent HiBob survey, we found that 56% of employees at mid-size companies would quit if their employer didn’t offer flexible hours and location options. 

Employees should not feel shy about asking HR or team leads for suggested ways to work to make them more comfortable. Working part-time at home and in-office, or working entirely remote for some time may suit the employee best. Flexibility allows people to achieve a healthier balance by eliminating the stress and physical act of commuting and giving them more time to sleep, practice healthy habits and ultimately recover.  

Additionally, providing benefits that help your people recover can make their experience even smoother. Since the pandemic began, many companies have offered telemedicine or stipends for teletherapy benefits — allowing their people to connect with doctors or licensed professionals for either medical advice or mental health counseling. HR and managers can also leverage technology (such as HiBob’s Clubs feature) or additional internal company boards to create support groups and connect employees who are interested in discussing their recovery tips and dealing with COVID-19.  

3. Use technology to track COVID-19 status.

Welcoming back employees and ensuring the safety of the rest of your organization is no simple task. The responsibility of ensuring that people have either been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 before coming to work falls on the company’s shoulders, and more specifically, on HR. 

If necessary, leverage HR tech to track everything. As the central source of information on your people, your HRIS is the natural place to store information on their vaccination and negative status so that you can protect those coming into the office. A flexible HR platform like Bob not only gives you the security you need to keep your people data completely confidential, it’s configurable and flexible to support any future requirements.

As the pandemic continues and more employees either get COVID-19 or recover from COVID-19 and return to hybrid or in-office schedules, having these office stats at hand are helpful for those who are at-risk or concerned. 

4. Continue adapting.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are highly adaptable. Welcoming back employees should be no different. By leading with kindness, providing flexibility and benefits, and using HR tech to streamline your own processes, you’ll make your employees’ experience a welcoming, comfortable, and ultimately more productive one. 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for welcoming back an employee who has missed work due to COVID-19? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article was written by a Fairygodboss Contributor.

Rhiannon Staples is the Chief Marketing Officer and Head of North America at leading HR Technology/ People Management Platform Hibob. With more than 15 years of experience leading global marketing strategy, teams, and programs at fast-growing startups, Rhiannon Staples is responsible for spearheading the people management software company’s go to market strategy. She draws from her experience at working at the people management platform to hold forth on how HR and company managers can balance employees’ needs, aspirations, and expectations.

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