Employer Strategies for a Healthy Return to Office

office department on a video call after return to office

Employers and employees across Southeast Michigan are preparing to transition back to in-person work. The Detroit Regional Chamber knows a shift this large doesn’t come without challenges. During a recent employer forum, national health experts discussed useful strategies for maintaining well-being amid return to office and the importance of staying up to date on routine vaccinations.

Session presentations

Returning to the workplace is stressful for many employees. After being advised for over a year to stay home, socially distance, and wear masks, the thought of reengaging back into society brings another wave of anxiety. Chingping Wan, MD, VP of clinical operations and strategy at Conifer Health Solutions, addressed employee concerns as she outlined four key factors employers should consider for a healthy return to the workplace.

Create a positive culture

Employers should work to eliminate stigma around remote work. There will be employees who, if given the option, choose to continue working remote. Employers need to ensure they are given equal opportunity to succeed compared to those who return to the workplace and have one-on-one interactions with managers.

Set clear expectations

Wan recommends employers embrace the new hybrid model of remote and in-person work by giving employees options and allowing flexibility. Realistic expectations should be set by leadership on working from the office vs home.

“If employees are required to show up for certain things, be transparent and don’t be shy about your ‘why,’” said Wan. “Whatever your reason, explain it to your employees so they can build the right expectation and manage their stress and anxiety on their part.”

Manage employee mental well-being:

Wan created a checklist of questions for employers to help prioritize employee well-being throughout the transition:

    • Have you updated your mental health benefits?
    • What does your employee support program look like? Is it tailored toward COVID-19 recovery?
    • How are you supporting managers to reduce their stress levels?

Manage employee health and safety

Employers should communicate frequently with their teams to update employees on the current return-to-office status, share resources, and list what is expected of them in the coming weeks/months.

“This will help them manage confusion, doubt, and panic,” said Wan. “Don’t let employees figure it out themselves.”

Employers must also consider the following questions before employees return:

    • Does your organization have proper health measures in place to reduce risk for employees?
    • What are your protocols around the daily check-in routine, wearing masks, cleaning, etc.?
    • What do you do when/if there is a positive COVID-19 case? Does your organization have a clear, well-established clinical response plan?

While everyone’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020, infectious diseases experts have been continuously promoting and encouraging routine vaccination to protect against previously controlled diseases.

Michelle McManus, director for organized customer access and reimbursement, U.S. vaccines at Merck presented on the impact of COVID-19 on routine vaccination during the employer forum.

According to recent research at Merck, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted routine vaccination significantly across the U.S.:

    • Compared to the 2017-2019 three years average, all age groups are behind in wellness visits continuing into 2021.
    • Both private and public doses of adolescent routine vaccines drastically declined in March 2020, but private doses are recovering much faster than public doses, leading to a large inequity gap between the two groups.

Without adequate vaccination rates among age groups, experts raise concerns over potential outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. As the new school year approaches, getting caught up with routine vaccinations is especially important among school-aged children and adolescents.

McManus spoke to employers directly, asking them to reach out to employees about the importance of staying current with routine vaccination, “to help close the gaps that now exist and recover from lost vaccination due to the pandemic.”

While the return to in-person work brings challenges and checklists for employers, it is also an exciting time filled with optimism, grit, and resilience.