Supporting employee mental health as they return to work

Four tips to ensure a smooth transition for staff

Adam Saville
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Providing emotional support and assessing workspaces are among the best measures recommended
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Providing emotional support and assessing workspaces are among the best measures recommended

Since last Wednesday (13 May), following confirmation from the UK Prime Minister, the national population has been allowed to take unlimited exercise outside and people who cannot work from home should return to the workplace, avoiding public transport.

Boris Johnson mentioned the next step - "at the earliest by 1 June" - will involve some primary pupils returning to school and the potential reopening of some shops.

However, a recent poll by Ipsos MORI revealed even when lockdown is eased, many Brits now feel "uncomfortable" going back to their normal lives.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly half of over-16s currently rate their anxiety as "high", more than double the numbers since 2019.

As a result, Brendan Street, professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health, has urged organisations to think carefully about how they will prepare for the possibility of returning to work with some restrictions still remaining and how they can support employee mental health post-lockdown. He has suggested four actionable measures.

First steps and legal considerations

Street said: "Anxiety often stems from the unknown. Anxious employees repeatedly ask themselves 'what if?' and focus on problems before they have happened.

"Sharing actionable steps on how the business is planning to safeguard their health and how they can protect themselves when back in their old work environment will help rationalise this issue.

"Make sure, company health protocols are clear and accessible. This means keeping staff informed on the steps you are taking as a business and giving advice on how to stay hygienic and safe around others."

He added that employers should ensure payroll staff are notified when furlough will end, and when employees should be back on full pay. Exact timeframes should be communicated widely to staff and as soon as possible to help alleviate anxiety surrounding reduced personal finances.

Staff should also be given a reasonable period of notice for when they will be expected to return to 'normal' work conditions, Street also advised, as many will need to plan for childcare or adjust working hours if schools have reopened.

Communicate emotional support

Street said some employees may have anxiety about going back to work, commuting on public transport, or have experienced difficult situations during lockdown.

"Have one-to-one meetings, if possible, with every employee - or with set teams, if your company is large - virtually, before they return to work," he said.

"You should encourage them to share any concerns they have and address any worries about their physical and mental wellbeing."

He added it is important to assure employees of the emotional wellbeing support provided, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and company wellness action plan scheduling.

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