As Covid-19 lockdown measures ease across the country Benenden Health’s Naomi Thompson shares some tips for employers to support workers as they return to the office
For several months now, employees across many sectors have been away from the office or work environment and adjusting to a ‘new normal' way of working, whether socially distanced or remotely.
During this time, employers have had to consider how to balance productivity and business performance with the wellbeing of their employees, with many workers having to face new challenges of their own.
Many employees are also having to balance non-work pressures, such as juggling caring commitments and managing financial concerns, making this a difficult time for both employers and employees.
A recent Benenden Health survey found that nearly one in five people who are experiencing poor mental wellbeing said that work was causing the most stress in their daily lives.
Now many businesses are starting to consider a return to work strategy, whether moving back to operations as they were pre-pandemic or deciding to retain some of the new ways of working discovered over the past few months.
With the coronavirus still present in society, businesses must work together with employees to ensure safety and wellbeing are priorities in any return to work strategy.
Here are some top tips for achieving this, all of which will also help enhance employee productivity and subsequent business performance.
Throughout this uncertain period, many employees have been forced to juggle different areas of their lives, for example through the closure of workspaces, nurseries and schools. Those with caring commitments may have found it difficult to adhere to strict working hours and as such, maintaining this flexibility with employees where possible in the longer term can be a big boost to the productivity and wellbeing of such individuals.
For many, returning to a physical place of work will be easier and more comfortable than for others. After a challenging few months, employees may still be anxious about returning to work - whether holding fears about catching the virus itself or feeling isolated after being on furlough leave - so employers should be understanding to individual circumstances and recognise that this may be a daunting transition.
Make sure you talk to your team and consult them on their ideas for the best way to return to the workplace, this will help to reduce stress and anxiety levels and boost wellbeing and performance at work.
Boost mental wellbeing
During lockdown, many businesses and individuals have worked hard to protect and promote positive mental wellbeing and this should continue even in a more ‘normal' environment.
It would be easy to forget some of the things that businesses have been doing during this period of working to ensure that employees remain positive and healthy but these should be retained and built upon if returning to work in the coming weeks and months.
For some, the regular video calls, quizzes and end of week drinks will have been highly beneficial and vital for morale and wellbeing. As an employer, you should try to continue this employee interaction when returning to work and don't just assume that everyone will have their own activities planned with family and friends. Instead, maybe look to arrange some outdoor team meet-ups or a team picnic to get colleagues back together.
The best solutions for improving mental health in the workplace are often the simplest.
A recent Benenden Health survey found that the coronavirus has had a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of more than a third of people (35%). Offering a safe and confidential space for staff to talk is fundamental in helping address these issues and also contributes to removing the stigma surrounding mental health being discussed in the workplace.
Some employees who have really struggled during this time may also benefit from professional advice, and employers can help provide support by pointing their workers in the direction of counsellors or mental health practitioners.
If your workplace has trained Mental Health First Aiders, make employees aware and encourage them to utilise what support is available to them on their return.
One of the foundations of good mental wellbeing is good physical health. Keeping active can help reduce the likelihood of depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by current circumstances.
Simply encouraging employees to make the most of the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise each day can be of great benefit for their mental health and many businesses have been doing this during lockdown.
For those who may find exercising alone difficult, consider launching lunchtime sporting groups for employees. Whether yoga, pilates, circuit training or anything else, these activities are great for our physical and mental wellbeing and provide an outlet for colleagues to spend more time with one another.
Naomi Thompson is head of organisational development at Benenden Health