How to support employees as they return to the workplace

Returning to the workplace

What actions can employers take to make the return to the workplace process successful?

After months of lockdown, many employers will be considering how the ‘new normal’ will affect their employees as they return to the workplace. Many will be wondering how it will alter their approach to working arrangements, employee benefits and workplace wellbeing.

Whatever the workplace environment looks like, whether it is an office, a workshop, a factory or a mixture of home and on-site working, the needs of employees may not be the same as they were before the pandemic.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t seem appropriate when you consider that every employee has experienced the lockdown differently over the last year.

Some have worked as normal throughout that period; some have been furloughed, and others may have worked from home. There will be employees who have been very ill during the last year or those who have lost loved ones or colleagues.

It leaves employers with a myriad of health and wellbeing concerns to contend with as employees return to the workplace.

Whilst there will be employees desperate to get back, and looking forward to greater socialisation, there are also likely to be colleagues who find the process stressful, or even frightening.

Dr. Jo Yarker, organisational psychologist, reported that lockdown has affected us all in different ways, and it is only normal to feel uncertain about what the future holds. Many people feel confused, worried and apprehensive about going back into the workplace.[1]

So what actions can employers take to make the return to the workplace process successful? And what support should they consider to help employees who may be apprehensive & nervous about returning?

Practical measures to consider:

1. Prepare for the return

Put together a re-orientation plan to manage the process of returning to the workplace. It should include:

  • What’s changed at work? Is the workplace environment different? Are you adopting greater levels of flexibility and offering more options to work from home?
  • What new measures can be put in place to provide help and assistance?
  • Where do employees go if they have concerns?

All these aspects should be mapped out in advance. It’s important to ensure that line managers have been fully briefed and are aware of the support in place for employees.

2.  Communicate and listen

Make sure you share guidelines on how the return to the workplace will look and feel. Consider a phased return to make the process less stressful for employees – and consider that flexibility may be the ‘new norm’.

Don’t make communication one way – be willing to listen to employees, because gaining feedback and understanding their concerns is vital. Once you understand them it is easier to plan effective support.

Also consider some employees may have experienced a serious illness or a bereavement since they were last in the workplace. Make sure you have the right support in place for their return.

Remind your employees that support is there if and when they need it. Share details of your Employee Assistance Programme, if you have one, or signpost to charities such as MIND or Mental Health UK.

3.  Once they are back

Hold return to work meetings with every employee focusing on their wellbeing. Allow for a period of re-adjustment and look for ways to be flexible to alleviate any worries they have.

Make sure to check in regularly with your employees and be alert to any changes in behaviour that could signal a potential mental health issue.

Keep promoting and encourage your employees to use the services provided through their benefits and know who to talk to if they are struggling with their mental health. 

Read our top 10 tips offering stress, resilience and mental health support to employees.

Is it time to review the benefits you offer?

One of the most important aspects of a return to the workplace is not to assume that the employee benefits programmes that were already in place for employees still address their needs now.

The world has certainly changed and although some businesses will find their employee benefits packages are robust enough to cope, others may find they require updating. Employees are increasingly looking to their employers for greater support with their overall wellbeing. Is this included within your current strategy? Or an area that needs consideration?

The key question is are the benefits you offer fit for purpose in a post-Covid world?

Issues such as mental health have been covered more extensively in recent employee benefits strategies, but the topic has become an even hotter one during a year in which employees have suffered the mental strain created by a global public health emergency.

There are practical issues to consider, too. Are season ticket loans a thing of the past in a time when more people work from home? Should you offer discounts at gyms close to where employees live rather than near to the workplace? With the NHS expected to face challenging waiting lists in the years to come, should employers be considering Private Medical Insurance or other healthcare solutions to support their workforce?

A Free Employee Benefits Review

Our experts will review your existing employee benefit policies to check they are fit for purpose, deliver good value and achieve the best outcomes for your business and your people.

No two employee benefits packages are the same and the requirements of every business will be unique. Our team of experts will be available to help no matter whether the organisation has existing benefits in place or is considering these for the first time.

Book your employee benefits review today.

References: [1]

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