20 Jul How do you feel about returning to work?
With the easing of lockdown restrictions and the Government encouraging those that can, to go back to work, employers and managers will be facing new challenges especially with regard to the health and wellbeing of their employees.
It would be naïve to think that everything will fit back into place as it was before, as the lockdown will have affected people in different ways and some will have had to face tougher challenges than others and maybe even bereavement in very difficult times without the opportunity to say goodbye properly to loved ones. All of this could lead to mental health issues in the coming months if not in the longer term. Recognising any differences in behaviour or outlook will be essential to support individuals if they are struggling.
Initially, even just the thought of going back to work can create feelings of anxiety and stress if new guidelines as to working have not been communicated to everyone as to what to expect. For example, has information concerning social distancing measures and enhanced hygiene protocols been sent to returning employees so that they know what they need to do when entering the building? Should they expect to be working with screens dividing them from fellow employees? What other infection controls will be in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus? Will there be a one-way system to adhere to around the building? These may seem straightforward and simple to some but to others the need to know what is expected from them so that they do not fall foul of any new regulations or risks to their health, can be a huge deal.
There is also the reintegration of furloughed staff with those who have worked throughout. There may be anxieties on both sides. Those who had been furloughed may be feeling a little vulnerable as being out of the loop may raise feelings of having been left behind, not up to date with current policies or projects and how they will now fit in to the team, will they have different or new responsibilities? They may also have feelings of guilt that colleagues who have worked throughout have kept business going in their absence.
Those who have worked throughout may also feel a little resentful towards those who were furloughed and find it difficult to reintegrate them back into the team. On the positive side it could also be an ideal opportunity to discuss new ways of working and perhaps different structures which are more productive. The important thread through all of this is keeping communication open and honest from all perspectives.
Job security worries such as redundancies and other financial worries may also have an effect on workers and those who had been furloughed may worry that they would be the first out of the door.
Family life and work life are intrinsically interconnected, if there are problems at home, you cannot leave them at the front door. Anyone who is experiencing issues at home will inevitably have those worries on their shoulders still when they return to work. Being in lockdown has not been rosy for many people and any problems at home may have been aggravated to unprecedented levels. What if an employee has been asked to return to work but they are concerned as they have relatives at home who are vulnerable and do not want to risk spreading infection? What if there has been a bereavement with no opportunity to grieve properly due to the restrictions of lockdown, do you give them more time before asking them to return?
It will be an exceedingly difficult time for all concerned and more important than ever for health and wellbeing protocols to be in place. For example, Mental Health First Aiders to be on hand to support people and recognise signs of anxiety so that they can listen to and guide them to the help that they need. You may find that some employees, after returning to work, are having more time off sick than they would have done previously. Is this out of character and if so, why is that? It could be that they are struggling from poor mental health. Having someone to talk to at work could lessen the times this occurs.
Employee Assistance Programmes are another resource and generally being aware of how the changes are affecting employees and how they can be supported.
Keep talking, keep the communication channels open and take this opportunity to create a more supportive environment as everyone will be feeling a little anxious to some degree as to how working life will look now and in the future.