Re-entry is top of mind for many people in the U.S., with HR professionals thrown into particularly challenging waters. Listings for human resources jobs are up 52.5% from their pre-pandemic baseline, Axios reported on June 24.
But as HR departments navigate the return to work, there appears to be no singular way to meet the demand — except by leading direct reports with inclusion and individualized mentorship at the forefront, experts told HR Dive.
"We all need to be conscious that different countries – and even cities – will be experiencing different things during the pandemic," Global Head of Uber for Business Susan Anderson said in an interview. In speaking about her mentoring process during re-entry period, Anderson explained how this ethos would look in practice.
"Recovery is not uniform. Access to vaccines is not uniform. And individuals' experiences during the pandemic will also not be uniform. We have to remain inclusive and empathetic in our communications with employees as 'the new normal' firms up."
In the U.S., the firming up process largely concerned COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the shifting attitudes around them. As the first vaccines were administered in December 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers could require proof of vaccination. So long as the inquiry was job-related and consistent with business necessity, it would not be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
One in 10 employers had considered making proof of vaccination an employment requirement, a March survey by Willis Tower Watson found. Survey data showed that 23% of employers were planning to make or were considering making vaccination a prerequisite of workplace re-entry. Security company Kastle Systems even added coronavirus vaccination status as a building access factor this year, giving more than 41,000 businesses the option to bar employees from the office accordingly.
Especially in an environment of prolonged stress and prevalent work burnout, experts say embracing employees' differing comfort levels concerning COVID-19 life is the way to go. "What the pandemic has pushed forward is this individualized approach to employee support, because it highlighted so dramatically how different each person was experiencing what was going on," Sarah Sheehan, co-founder of coaching platform Bravely, told HR Dive. "We all had different needs and expectations of how those were to be met."
Sheehan believes that the tailor-made approach to mentorship and human resources is far from a trend. "Employees are now going to require more resources and support mechanisms that are targeted towards them as an individual. That's the approach that managers and HR [professionals] need to take with their teams," she said. "It's [about] focusing on the person sitting in front of them, rather than, 'What do we need to offer across the board?'"
Specific to re-entry, Anderson said, "We need to recognize that for some of our team, returning to the office is exciting. Talking to colleagues, being in social environments and being back in meetings [in person] is something that many are looking forward to. But for others, it may not be welcome news." She also acknowledged that some employees have thrived while working from home.
"As we transition, we need to find ways to help both sets of people. We must keep teams connected and foster a culture of collaboration while maintaining the positive aspects of flexibility," Anderson said. "Ultimately, we should always be working towards greater inclusivity."