How to Tell Your Employer You Don’t Feel Safe Returning to Work

Work is important, but so is your health.

No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been working, we all have questions when it comes to careers—from how to respond to a rejection letter to learning to say no when a role isn’t a good fit. That’s where Career Counselor comes in. In this weekly series, we connect with experts to answer all of your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.

With states slowly opening up across the country, some companies have decided to start having their employees return to work. But just because your employer is requesting you to go back to the office doesn’t mean it might be something you feel comfortable doing—in fact, it might be the complete opposite.

If this is the case, relationship expert Dr. Laurel Steinberg says it’s imperative that you address your needs to your employer sooner than later. This will allow you to keep a healthy relationship with your superiors while simultaneously feeling heard.

“Being able to set boundaries when it comes to work helps employees to feel cared for, listened to, and safe, all of which are elements that foster the creation of the best work product possible while keeping employee talent alive,” Dr. Steinberg explains.

It’s understandable if you decide to lay low with your thoughts and feelings because you’re afraid you might lose your job or have a confrontation with your boss, but you might be doing more harm than good in the long run. “When we don’t assert our needs, many consequences can arise for us as individuals. These can include feeling resentful, distressed, angry, less motivated, less passionate about what we are doing, and even hopeless or helpless,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Kim Chronister.

It might work to your benefit to address your needs—but if you don’t know how, don’t worry. We connected with a few experts to find out how you can tell your superiors you don’t feel safe returning to work.

HelloGiggles (HG): How should you tell your employer you don’t feel safe going back to work?

“It helps to ask for a specific meeting to discuss this concern, rather than trying to squeeze it into an already existing meeting, or to bring it up impromptu. This gives you time to prepare your talking points so you’ll be able to make your case calmly that working from home is the best approach for you and the company right now. 

“Ask your manager—and potentially HR depending on who the decision-makers may be at your company’s structure—to set up some time to talk with them about the plans to re-open the office, or to return people to work.”

— Brie Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs

HG: How should you provide this information once you’re in the meeting?

“It’s best to use the old ‘sandwich technique,’ in my opinion. This technique is not to placate or manipulate others and it is not meant to downplay the importance of the point that you want to get across. It is meant, however, to open the other person up to feedback by lowering their defenses.

“The first thing you’d want to do is to state a few things that you love about your work and/or compliment them on what you’ve gotten from them as your supervisor. Then, give them feedback about your fears (do not go into too much detail as you do not need to explain yourself since it is very logical that you could hold these fears at this time).

“Finally, you would want to boldly and passionately state what exactly it is that you are looking forward to doing more of with regard to your job. Then you want to pause. There is not more explaining—let them come up with the answer. Even if it is an awkward pause, allow them time to answer first. This way you don’t appear desperate (because, of course, you are a person with many options and you are in your right to feel the way that you feel at present)!”

— Dr. Chronister

HG: How should you create a stay-at-home plan to give to your employer?

“This plan is meant to show employers what it might look like if you continue to work from home even as the office re-opens. Your key points should illuminate how you’ll stay connected (i.e. what company tools and programs will you use: online chat, email, phone calls, web or video conferencing) and how you’ll remain an active part of the team (i.e. collaboration ideas you have, like being available for video conference calls during team meetings, or setting up more regular check-in phone calls with teammates and your manager). Being able to show the employer what it might look like if you stay home can help them grasp the situation and hopefully approve your request.”

— Reynolds

HG: What should you do if your employer denies your request?

“Each state also has regulations that businesses must follow in order to re-open, so be sure to check that your employer is following those. As an alternative to fully staying home, also be prepared to discuss what accommodations you might request in the workplace in order to feel safe to return to the office. Some suggestions might be a more private space for working, staggered work hours so you’re not in the building with a lot of other people, working from home several days each week, etc. This last one—a hybrid situation where people are working from home sometimes, and in the office other times—is increasingly becoming a common choice for employers as they consider how to re-open their offices. Stats like these may help to encourage employers to go this route as a compromise:

  • “(PwC) Half of executives (55%) expect to extend options for most of their office workers to work from home at least one day a week post-COVID, up from the 39% of companies who did so before the pandemic.
  • (S&P) 67% of respondents expect that their work-from-home policies will become permanent, or at least remain in place for the long term.
  • (Nonprofit HR) A majority of nonprofits (69%) indicated that they can accommodate working from home for all staff; a similar majority (69%) said they are now contemplating remote work even after the coronavirus crisis passes.”

— Reynolds

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