The Stress of Going Back to the Office is Getting to Us
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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We have been trying to institute a work-from-home (WFH) program post-COVID. It has become a challenge because everyone has a view of how it should be. We’re a 42-person advisory firm and there are 42 different concerns.
I’m in the camp that says don’t allow it at all. We should all return to the office as we did for 17 years (how long our firm has been around). If people want to work from home, they are grown-ups and can do it when they can. Others believe there should be full license to stay home all of the time. Others think it should be earned or used as a reward. Others think we should have a two-day in, three-day off schedule.
We are a collegial team and we have always made decisions in a collaborative manner. But this is tearing us apart.
What are other firms doing to solve for this? I know you’ve written about the transition piece before. But I am less worried about the final decision and more about how this is going to put our team in camps and pit people against one another. Someone in leadership needs to make the decision and then we’re done. But our senior team doesn’t operate that way. They want buy-in and support for decisions.
I teach a graduate course called managerial skills and this is one of our main topics. If people are in disagreement, there is such a fine line between giving everyone a voice and having a clear-cut way of making decisions. Too much input and collaboration can backfire because sometimes people first feel entitled and then feel burned if the decision doesn’t go their way. Unfortunately, there is a place for taking a stand on decision-making. As long as you can explain how you reached the decision and give context for how it will be implemented and why, people go along with it.
You are in a place where engaging in teambuilding, or doing something to cement the team together, would be important. Ask the leaders to make a final decision – find something that is the closest to a middle ground. Many firms I see are doing the 2/3 days in, 2/3 days out approach and this could be a good option for you.
Once the decision is made and communicated as to why this was the final decision (a very important step in the process), put together some teambuilding and communication-sharing activities among the team. Don’t let this fester or get worse; schedule something sooner rather than later. If people are hesitant to all be together in one place, do this virtually. I have a client who has been doing monthly teambuilding (about 25-30 people) on screen. We come up with some questions or a learning experience or exercise each month and the team shares them together. Even in a virtual setting, it has worked very well. This is a reasonable option for your group.
Set a measurement that you will revisit this decision at the end of the year, or in first quarter, so that you are keeping the lines of communication open and gauging how people are doing with this approach.
Hopefully your senior team will see that while it is great to get feedback and input, and it is recommended for most things, you have to be careful how open you make it – and leave it. It can quickly turn into a difficult situation, which then requires more fixing as you are finding out!
The stress of returning to the office is starting to get to many of our advisors. We came back thinking it would largely be a return to normal. People on our team of 12 get along very well and have missed seeing one another.
We returned in early September and have mandated five days a week for everyone in the office. We are all vaccinated and provide options for testing if people want to take advantage of this. We have hired our own cleaners, outside of the ones the building uses, who come in and sanitize periodically. We have taken many steps to protect our team.
However, there is a lot of grumbling about being in the office. I have heard some team members say they got along better when it was all virtual.
Did we rush to return? Should we provide some stress relievers for our team (we bring in lunch once per week for everyone to gather together, eat and share ideas).
I am at a loss. The nice people who left back in March of 2020 have taken on new personae and are different now. How do we readjust and bring back what we had?
I’m afraid there is no returning back to exactly what everyone walked away from. Stress is the new normal and people have experienced so much there is lingering PTSD for many. I don’t know the personal situations of all 12 people, but if you have parents with small children struggling with care, or someone who has a long commute, or a person dealing with family health issues, their anxiety level is going to be heightened. It’s not that they won’t be doing a great job for you, it’s that their emotions are likely running high, and they are working harder than ever to cover many bases.
It’s also possible you changed some of your processes and approaches during the virtual world and people might be challenged by figuring out how to re-integrate or change up what they are doing now they are back in person. Don’t overlook that everyone had to adjust and come up with new ways of working. It’s not like that didn’t exist just because you have returned to the office. It is an integration process that requires you to look at all of what has been newly put in place and determine what stays and what goes. Put together pods of people to look at these things and come back and make recommendations for best practices in working together. This could help solidify the team again and could be a practical solution.
Provide additional “wellness” days where someone does not have to be sick or dealing with family problems and can decide they need a break and work from home. I realize you don’t want people abusing this. But if the stressors in the office are so high, it is good to have a physical break available when someone needs it.
This has been extremely challenging for everyone and some people deal with the stressors better than others. Be proactive but infuse some patience.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.