It’s important to keep in mind the intense stress that many have been under in the last 6 months and the impact that it has on each individual. Company owners, leaders, staff and their families.
Pretty much everything we used to know about our working lives has been changing for a while now and, following the pandemic, things will look and feel even more different in the workplace for years to come.
Even the word ‘workplace’ may need a revamp.
We face uncertainty and we face challenges – employers need to be looking at wellbeing strategies and ensuring they are doing what they can to support both themselves and their staff through these choppy economic waters in order to minimise the impact on mental health.
There are certainly mixed feelings about the return to offices or your usual place of work. Safety concerns, the plans to minimise risk, worries about family and friends, public transport and perhaps how others are observing the social distancing rules and etiquettes. We have lived for half a year with a feeling of fear and we have had to come to terms with a new world. Many feel they are being asked to return to workplace life too early while there are also many who are ready and eager to get back to it. Nonetheless – there is a mix of excitement, nervousness, anxiety and trepidation for huge numbers of people.
It is going to take time and support for everyone to feel totally comfortable with returning to a physical workplace.
Interestingly, a number of our clients have looked at the return plans in great detail and have put in place something similar to that of a return to work from long term absence structure. Phased, gradual and fully supported. Getting back into routines slowly. It is sensible to research the employee assistance programmes which are available to you. Talk to your fellow leaders about what they are doing and decide if it might work for your business or teams.
Have you met with members of your team for a walk, coffee or a catch up recently? It’s a good way to start the ball rolling and build confidence in the next stages. Think about possible small group meetups. Crucially, if you can find a way to reconnect with your employees, within the rules and guidelines and being mindful of the impact on their mental health, it will help to phase the return to work & productivity for all.
Don’t forget that people haven’t been on holiday, they have been working from home or furloughed. Do encourage staff to take some annual leave to break up the return to work and support the phasing in. We all need that switch off time to relax, recharge and recover.
Do acknowledge the uncertainty and stress – it’s important to be positive about the future where possible, but also recognising that there are still many challenges ahead. If you don’t know the answer to questions that you may be asked over the next few months or years, say so and go away and seek guidance from a reputable source. Your staff trust you and will take on board what you say, so do make sure it’s correct and well informed.
Communicate your future plans and the journey that you are on as a business often. That sense of purpose and belonging is so important to people and knowing they are on that road to growth and recovery with a team around them could be just what they need to give them the confidence to slowly return to the workplace. They may feel more energised to overcome some of their worries and concerns.
Everyone responds to stress & change differently. Be mindful that not all will behave or react in the same way to the return to a work environment. So, when you are planning your strategy, take advice on how to deliver the right level of support across a wide spectrum of staff. You may have people in your teams who are at greater risk of poor mental health or additional challenges which may make it more complex for them to adapt.
Do communicate regularly about how your staff can access support, be that if you are able to offer support services through your company or if you have sourced reputable and recommended support from an external source. Consider mentors to support small groups or a 1-2-1 mental health mentor who can listen should people begin to open up and discuss their concerns. A number of companies have brought in a mental health first aider, which is an excellent idea.