Key causes of concern from lockdown restrictions
April is Stress Awareness Month. Now more than ever we need to provide guidance to employees on how to navigate a smooth transition back to the workplace. Before the COVID-19 pandemic even hit us, mental health was the biggest HR challenges faced by UK employers.
Stress Awareness Society recently collaborated with Huawei to conduct a study on stress, gathering data from 2000 British adults. The research identified that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The three key causes for concern are feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control. In this context we have some ideas to consider as part of an employee wellbeing programme.
Be pro-active and manage employee anxiety levels
Make time to get to know your employees better and be attentive to their emotional state. Show empathy and convey understanding of ‘it’s OK to not feel 100% OK’ messaging. Encourage people to speak up whenever they feel the need and establish governance to ensure confidentiality. Mental health first aiders, are growing in popularity as a means to provide individual support and raise the profile of mental health within organisations.
Familiarity reduces fear
Some employees may have anxieties about returning to the office, while others will be excited to get out of the house! Your office will look and feel different to how they remember it. No-one really knows how our workplaces will be changed forever as we come out of the pandemic – but it will be different! Communicate and often is key to embrace employees’ psychological discomfort.
Some ideas you can implement to get the ball rolling:
- To facilitate a smooth transition back to the workplace, communicate a detailed plan covering all practical issues such as social distancing measures in place, wearing of masks policy, testing and hygiene facilities. For example; have you installed perspex screens at work stations and what your plans are for a phased return to work.
- As an employer, you must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from coronavirus. This is called a COVID-19 risk assessment and it’ll help you manage risk and protect people. See Government guidelines for Risk Assessing your workplace.
- Why not shoot a video of the workplace to showcase the changes that have taken place. This will manage expectations of employees, who may have been working from home or furloughed. A simple video taken on your mobile phone will do the job nicely with you discussing what you see. Share with employees on internal comms channels.
- Start discussion forums on open communication channels. Encourage discussion threads. Ask what employees have missed about the workplace – share what you have missed too and engage two-way conversations. This will give you an idea of what some of the underlying concerns might be. DO THIS BEFORE STAFF RETURN TO THE WORKPLACE!
- Find ways to engage in light-hearted conversations and share positivity. Be the person people want to talk to in your team.
- Engage your people in the “return to the office” experience. Try and create a sense of fun and anticipation. Encourage polls on ‘What I’ve missed most”, “Just in case you don’t recognise me – before and after lockdown hair cut picture sharing”. There may be a place for initiatives such as funny mask days, but do involve your team in designing the events and let them evolve naturally to suit your culture.
Evaluating perceptions of returning to work
This is where you really need to understand and be able to proactively deal with challenges. Ask the right questions and be clear that any feedback will be dealt with and sooner rather than later.
- How do you feel about returning to the office? This is your starter and will help you gauge the mood, any underlying anxieties or excitement levels, whilst reiterating that you care about how your employees feel.
- What concerns you about returning to the office? Going back to our opening paragraph and what people feelings or concerns might be around health, disconnection, loss of control, child-care. This question is a chance for any concerns to be raised.
- Could you maintain the working from home model for the next 6 months if needed? If you are phasing people back to the office, this will give you a chance to prioritise and find a process which suits your employees. It will also give insight into how you might introduce a more permanent home/office working pattern if that is what your employees and the business would prefer.
- What have/are your biggest challenges been whilst working from home? Assess and identify any issues currently causing concern which will aid you in building a contingency plan if we ever need to lockdown abruptly again in the future.
Leaders; in order to alleviate stress and have a smooth transition back to the workplace, make sure that you respond to employees’ feedback and act upon it. Begin by answering questions and treat any concerns with empathy. Allowing staff to voice their concerns will create a culture of engaged and more productive employees’.
How we help you communicate well
WorkInConfidence offers a suite of facilities on its digital communications platform that are designed to give employees an easy route to have their say. During times of uncertainty, it’s even more important that companies can offer reassurance and comfort – and keeping the workforce connected and engaged can achieve that. Contact us to find out more about how we can help you to support employees during Covid-19 and beyond.
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