• Coach Kate

Wellbeing When Returning to Work - 5 Top Strategies All Leaders Need to Consider

As lockdown lifts many businesses are looking at how to slowly and safely bring their teams back into the workplace and into a ‘new normal’ - a phrase I have grown to instinctively roll my eyes at as there is no such thing as ‘normal’ especially in what we are experiencing now.

For any business owners or leaders having a plan of return is paramount, however, the more I strategize with organisations the more I wonder how many organisations are considering the emotional impact on their employees’ returning to work?

How much does your return to work plan consider employee emotional wellbeing?

There have been huge amounts of information regarding sanitization, physical distancing and suggestions on flexible working, however, it is crucial that, as a leader, you also include strategies to support your team’s mental health that the return to work may bring.

A recent Ipsos Mori study revealed that 35% of employees stated that the idea of heading back to their jobs made them feel nervous and anxious and half of those currently employed felt uncomfortable about the prospect of returning to the workplace.

With 69% of workers claiming lockdown due to coronavirus was the most stressful time of their entire professional career (Ginger, Business Wire) I can only imagine that these high levels of anxiety will continue as we navigate our return in a trial and error mode.

When does discomfort become a problem and what can business owners, HR personnel and managers do to alleviate employee anxieties?

In advising businesses with their return to work strategy I have identified 5 key areas which they and you should focus on in the coming weeks as people begin to return as well ongoing as we all begin to adjust to this fresh start in ways of working and commuting.

1. Clear & Unified Communication

You may not know the answers yet (in fact, it is highly likely no-one has does) but by relaying to your workforce the proposed plan and the options contained in it will show that, firstly, there is a plan and that there is flexibility within it to deal with the unknown and unexpected.

Admitting that there are some unknowns reveals an honest and authentic approach in leadership as does expressing fears and concerns - it makes leaders human and allows their teams to emotionally connect with them.

Ensure that all of your leaders and managers are working and communicating together - this is the time where support is of utmost importance so identify where your leaders need support and ensure they understand what is expected of them.; are they clear on the messaging to their teams? What help do they need? Are they being emotionally supported as well as being supportive?

2. Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

If your business has one - fantastic and gold stars all round. Now is the time to make sure that your staff know about it, what is available and how they can access any help they may need.

If you have yet to provide an EAP for your team then I strongly encourage (read that as insist!) you to do so as many employees will benefit from a confidential helpline, counselling sessions, advice on how to manage their anxiety during this time or even any financial concerns which may have arisen due to the effects of the pandemic.

3. Flexible Working

The majority of the workforce has had to embrace this during lockdown and for many it has been a double edged sword as it has enabled more freedom yet has also resulted in a lot more stress and for many of my clients the ‘need to always be visible online’ so therefore - constantly working.

Several companies have declared that they will continue to have their team work from home for the majority of the time, however, I fear this will lead to exasperated screen fatigue, longer working hours and ultimately burn out.

Whatever ways of working you are now considering, I urge you to include mental health days and approve paid days off for employees who are struggling emotionally.

This may result in a shift in your business culture to open up about mental health so be open, remind your team that mental health is just as important as physical health and that it is on a continuum. I often speak with leaders who visibly shudder when I say the words “mental health” - it is not always negative and we should all be working together to highlight that we have both good and poor mental health.

4. Listen

Great businesses work to create a tribe of happy workers by listening to the feedback from their staff. As much as I advise organisations not to stay silent I also request that leaders listen just as much as they talk.

Run surveys to discover where your staff need support and help, have individual wellbeing check-ins with every member of your team so they know that they matter, they have value and that their concerns are being taken on board.

There is a follow up to this - you do need to act on the responses you get from your employees. If they are crying out for less online meetings and more flexibility with working hours then it is up to you and your leaders, to ensure action is taken to positively improve their working lives.

Consider having designated, private spaces in your office where employees can go to recover especially if they are dealing with commuting, juggling returning to work and childcare or simply need to decompress.

5. Wellness in Action Plan

WAPs (yes another acronym - you can eye roll this time) are a personalised, practical tool anyone can use as they help identify what keeps us well at work, what causes us to become unwell, and how to address a mental health concern at work should you or one of your team be experiencing one.

A WAP will also open up a dialogue between an employee and a manager or HR representative resulting in leaders better understanding the needs and experiences of their team and ultimately how to better support their mental health.

In completing a WAP, employees will be able to proactively plan by gaining an awareness of what works and what doesn’t work for them in terms of managing their mental health, what support they will require from you, HR or their manager, leading to practical, agreed steps which can form the basis for regular monitoring and review.

By regularly reviewing the WAP, you and your employee can adapt it to reflect changes in their experiences or new approaches they find helpful, and by being proactive and taking ownership of the process and of the WAP itself, it may help them feel more in control.

For a free download for a Return to Work WAP and more information head to my website or get in touch with me to see how I can help you and your team return to work happily, healthily and remain well.

Ultimately, this is about creating an open and accepting environment and culture where your team feels comfortable to raise issues they are struggling with in the firm knowledge that you and your leaders will acknowledge their pain and support them in whatever ways the business can.

If we are to embrace a ‘new normal’ (cue eye roll!) then let’s make it a happier, healthier and better normal than ever before.

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