For two years, restrictions and lockdowns have kept workplaces empty. However, the easing of restrictions across Australia has seen employees return to the workplace and offices comeback to life. This has been met with enthusiasm by employees and employers alike. This return to work presents the opportunity for employers to re-engage with employees and it is a good time to consider how employers can ensure high workplace standards.

What does the culture actually look like?

Many organisations have successfully continued operations during the pandemic on a work from home basis. Organisations have navigated the challenges of hiring new employees and dealing with resignations and dismissals, all while working from home. With employees now returning to work employers may be surprised about their organisation's workplace culture. The prolonged working from home, staff changes and employee's becoming accustomed to greater flexibility will all contribute to a workplace culture that may be different to an organisation's pre-pandemic workplace culture.

When employees return to the office employers will need to consider what their organisation's workplace culture actually looks like. Many employers will want to set a vision for their organisation's culture going forward and re-engage with employees around this vision.

Managing workplace events

Employers may wish to organise return to work events and recommence in-person events such as training and team building days. Employers need to be cautious to ensure there is no fallout from such events. In advance of any workplace event, and particularly given employees have not attended a workplace event for some time, employers should take the opportunity to remind employees of the standards of behaviour expected and the consequence of not meeting those standards.

Employers can implement practical measures to manage workplace events such as designating the start and finish times of an event and ensuring moderate alcohol consumption. This could be achieved by organising the function around a non-alcohol related activity, conducting the event during the day, appointing a senior manager to oversee the responsible service of alcohol and requesting all managers lead by example.

Discrimination, harassment and bullying

In any workplace there may be differing personalities and workplace styles that have the potential to lead to tensions between employees. After an extended time away from the workplace, when employees return to work, these tensions may manifest as complaints on the grounds of discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Employers should ensure that their workplace policies set clear expectations about maintaining a respectful workplace despite differing opinions and personalities within the workplace.

Even with comprehensive policies and procedures, discrimination, harassment and bullying may still occur. Employers should be proactive to manage the risk by taking actions including:

  • undertaking workplace behaviour training for all employees;
  • educating employees about behaviour and culture expectations;
  • ensuring policies and procedures have been reviewed and are up-to-date;
  • requesting senior managers be champions of appropriate workplace behaviour; and
  • ensuring there are processes and mechanisms in place to deal with complaints.

Performance management and grievances

In our recent webinar Joydeep Hor, Founder and Managing Principal of People + Culture Strategies, discussed how employers should be conscious of raising workplace and productivity standards that may have slipped through the course of working from home. Employers are encouraged to refer to performance benchmarks before COVID-19 rather than the benchmarks set while employees were working from home. Employers should also ensure that managers who will be responsible for performance management of employees upon their return to the workplace have appropriate capabilities to undertake this management process.

Further, employers should be prepared for employee grievance raising and leadership impatience when employees return to work. While dealing with grievances will be challenging, it also provides an opportunity for re-engagement with employees.

How PCS can help

Returning to the office could create some points of tension for employers. PCS offers a wide range of services to organisations to ensure they are equipped to navigate the issues associated with employees returning to work. Such services include strategic HR consulting packages, culture audits, organisational structure reviews and advice on all workplace issues including vaccinations and return to work.