5 million people fear returning to work: How can you put your employees at ease?

According to The Independent, a shocking five million people fear returning to work when Covid-19 restrictions are eased due to preexisting mental health conditions. For a few, working from home has been beneficial for mental wellbeing as it’s encouraged a stronger work-life balance, so it’s no surprise that the prospect of going back into the office isn’t appealing to everyone. This is likely due to the fact that 3.7 million people across the UK have suffered workplace discrimation as a result of poor mental health. What’s more, it’s likely that someone with a condition like anxiety or depression earns a significantly lower income than the rest of the population. This gap has become more significant during the pandemic as individuals increasingly experience financial hardship.

After months of isolation, some staff may worry about the transition of having to socialise again in the workplace. Meanwhile, others who have gone through bereavement, financial difficulties, and personal life changes might be dealing with new mental health issues. Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute explained in the aforementioned Independent article that governments “must address the employment barriers that are leaving many people with mental health problems dreading a return to normal after the pandemic”. So, what can you do to ensure their staff return to work stress free?

Be more proactive in reducing workplace stress

Many UK workers have felt more stressed while working from home during the pandemic, which often has a direct impact on one’s mental health. Employees may experience stress for many reasons, including long working hours (Brits have been working an extra 28 hours overtime during the pandemic), excessive workloads, and tight deadlines. Stress can lead to physical damage, such as high blood pressure and heart attacks, as well as psychological damage including anxiety, depression, or even aggravation of pre-existing conditions. As such, it’s important for you and your management team to play an active role in preventing workplace stress.

Aside from the obvious personal problems stress causes, it also causes staff to take more sick days and underperform in their role. One way you can help combat this issue is enrolling your team on a stress management course. Take workplace training provider, MTD Training, for example. Its course can help aims to identify causes of stress while teaching “tools, techniques, and strategies to keep it under wraps”, thereby reducing levels of stress.

Regular check-ins with each employee can be useful to identify whether they’re coping with their workload or not. It can also help you keep track of how many hours are being worked. Encouraging frequent breaks is important, as working constant long hours is proven to be detrimental to mental health. You could also organise social activities for your team to remind employees that life is more than just work.

Allow for continued flexible working

The pandemic has demonstrated that most businesses can function effectively when their employees work from home. With many staff still wanting to work remotely in the future, there’s no reason companies shouldn’t allow this to continue. This is likely due to employees reaping the benefits of the working from home lifestyle, being able to focus more on things like diet, exercise, and hobbies which have a direct effect on mental wellbeing. Flexible working is advantageous for both your business and your staff, as employees who are less stressed are more productive, happy, and engaged.

More than half of workers admitted to being nervous about returning to work, which means managers should avoid rushing the transition back to the office. It’s likely that employees have settled into a routine that suits their lifestyle, enabling them to better juggle work, childcare, and household duties. A sudden return to the office 5 days a week could destroy that balance.

There are a myriad of reasons employees may be anxious to return. For example, staff might live with someone who is high-risk and required to shield, which could influence their decision to return to the office. Have a discussion with every employee individually to find out how heading back into the office will affect their personal circumstances. This will help you create a plan that suits everyone’s needs.

Offer support to your employees

One of the utmost important things you can do to smooth out your employees transition back into work is offer support. Let your team know you’re available for them if they have any concerns or problems, as this will help eliminate their worries. Not everyone will feel the same way about coming back to work, though, so managers need to be sensitive. For some, it may be harder getting used to the environment again.

Sit down with each worker to talk about how they’re feeling and what they might need from you to make the process easier. For example, some may worry about being in a busy, loud environment after months of solitary work. A solution could be to provide quiet areas for anyone who feels this way, if you have the building space to do so. Meanwhile, parents may be apprehensive about returning to normal and fear confrontation with their employer. In this situation, the best thing you can do is allow them to work flexibly where possible, as highlighted above.

Embrace a culture of self-care

While ‘self-care’ seems to be a bit of a buzzword as of late, engaging in these activities has a positive impact on how people feel, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional. However, when life becomes overwhelming, it’s easy to leave self-care by the wayside.

Managers play a vital role in encouraging staff to care more for their mental health through self-care. You can implement these practices into your workplace culture by fostering a community that is welcoming enough to discuss such matters. Create a space where employees feel comfortable to share their own experiences on self-care, and give each other advice on how to approach it. This should help normalise the importance of taking care of both mental and physical health.

Managers should lead by example. For instance, if you’re always working overtime, your employees are likely to follow suit, believing this to be what is expected of them. Behaviour like this can have a negative impact on mental health. Instead, you should behave how you want your employees to, by being a healthy role model for them. Be open about your own experiences while encouraging a balanced lifestyle. After all, self-care is more than just skincare and long hot baths. It’s about getting enough sleep, taking frequent breaks, and spending time outside.

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