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How To Have Difficult Conversations With Employees About Returning To The Office

Written by: Elisia Keown, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


There's only one thing that's certain about returning to the office: there will be more uncertainty.

Your company may or may not have taken a stance on returning to the office yet. But, regardless of if you're remote, hybrid, or going back in full time, the landscape of work has shifted.

You, your team, your clients, and your vendors will all be working differently.

Some people are eager to return to the office.

Some are neutral.

Some are dreading it.

And you've probably got your own opinions and emotions on the matter as well.

Having the conversation about the return to the office with employees calls for a different approach.

Are you dreading the conversations that you anticipate having with your employees about returning to the office?

Or maybe you're already back in the office and you need to tell a team member that the agreed-upon approach isn't working.

When you're prepping for a conversation about returning to the office, a few best practices are to know the company's stance and the non-negotiables of the policy, don't get wrapped up in trying to make everyone happy, and know that different roles require different needs and the location of where the employee works can be one of them. There are plenty of articles, podcasts, and books on how to prep on these basics.

However, there is very little advice out there on how to prep your mindset. When you're getting ready to have a tough conversation, the most important prep you can do is to know how YOU want to show up in the conversation.

What do I mean by that?

Let's start off with your thoughts and feelings about having a specific conversation. You may be thinking: They're going to be mad. They're going to quit. They're going to be upset. They're going to hate me.

After thinking these thoughts, some feelings might be fear, anxiety, nervousness, dread. This is normal. Why? Our primal instinct is to avoid this conversation at all costs to stay "safe with the herd". You're in a position to take action that separates you from the group. You must be a leader and disseminate information that employees may not want to hear. However, your logical part of your brain also knows that this is a conversation that you want to have with your employees.

If you feel fear or another one of those emotions going into the conversation, you might act in a way that shows up as not being direct, you may try people-pleasing and backing down from the points that you want to make in the conversation.

The result may be that the conversation ends up being confusing because you weren't direct, and the company stance and policy aren't being upheld because you aren't firm in conveying the guidelines.

So as an alternative, think about how you'd like to show up in the conversation. How would you like to feel? Perhaps calm, steady, and empathetic could be options.

If you choose to be calm, ask yourself, what do I need to think in order to be calm? Instead of thinking the thought, "They're going to be mad", you could choose to think, "They may get upset and that's ok. I can still be clear with my communication and be empathetic to their feelings".

By anticipating some of the situations in advance, you can choose your reaction ahead of time, for example: if they react in a certain way, then how do I want to react in response? What do I want to think? How do I want to feel? What do I want to do?

If they get mad (or sad, fearful, upset, etc.), that's ok. Humans are allowed to think, feel, and react in whatever way they want (of course it doesn't mean there aren't consequences to actions). However, we don't have to mirror their emotions or change our own reactions based on how they react.

You can ask yourself if they get mad, do I want to get mad too? Or do I want to stay calm? What do I need to think about their reaction in order to stay calm?

Know that you have the power to stay calm, stay curious, and stay compassionate. It's all up to you and how you choose to think as you move through the conversation. Yes, this takes practice. And no, you won't be perfect at it all the time. But the ability to be a leader and have crucial conversations while staying calm, steady, and compassionate is a skill worth learning and developing so you can be the type of leader that others want to work for.

Want more support with how to do this? Let's discuss how to create a simple plan for the return-to-work conversations you need to have with your team members. CLICK HERE to schedule a free, 30-minute session to discuss your challenges.

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Elisia Keown, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Elisia has 21 years of experience and a passion for coaching leaders, which makes her uniquely qualified to be the perfect coach for you. She's managed multiple geographically dispersed retail locations and led teams of employees numbering in the hundreds. She knows the importance of delegation, clear communication, and the power of direct feedback for development. She can help you organize yourself, your time, and your team to focus on the right priorities to drive results. She's led Talent Acquisition teams and has global recruiting experience. She learned quickly how hiring and retaining the right talent in a business truly impacts results. She can help you decipher if you have the right team in place to support you and what to do if you don't. She's supported multiple leaders of large teams (some managing up to 30,000+ employees) with all aspects of Human Resources. She's coached leaders to manage the performance of their teams, including having the most difficult and emotional conversations. She's helped leaders navigate through internal politics and helped them learn how to have a productive working relationship with their boss. She can support you with all of this and more.



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