How to support employees mental health when returning to the office
As lockdown eases, there has been a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’ – but we are quite a distance from knowing how things will settle in terms of restrictions and adaptations in our lives and our work. Chris O’Sullivan, Head of Business Development and Engagement at the Mental Health Foundation shares advice and insights on how to support your employees as they return to the workplace.
We must be alert to ‘Returnism’ – the impact that resuming after lockdown will pose to our mental health. We know there will be an effect, and all employers have a duty of care to recognise and mitigate psychological hazards, and to address stress at work. This is an extraordinary situation, but those obligations till stand.
Whether we are returning to uncertain futures, returning to the workplace from home working, or returning after facing the direct consequences of the pandemic – there’s a need to anticipate and prevent distress, and huge opportunity to stride forward in the way we address mental health in our workplaces.
The following steps may help:
Involve staff in planning for return to work
Consider whether people need to be in the office – or whether they could be if they want to
For many, flexibility will be important in the short and longer term – enabling this wherever possible will protect and improve mental health. In the short term, the necessity to shield or avoid increased risk of infection, or meet care and school commitments, may lead to people needing more flexibility.
Now is the time to consider how the built environment and your culture working could better promote wellbeing – especially if being in the office is less frequent, and higher value for both business and employee.
Be mindful of, and compassionate around individual circumstances
There is likely to be a period of catching-up and realisation of how challenging this has been. It may be a real opportunity to grow together as a team, but you may need to factor in a drop-in performance as this period is managed.
Look at the support you provide and promote them again – employee assistance programmes, benefits, mental health allies, and self-care opportunities can all be offered. Sharing stories – especially by senior staff - can be useful.
Place diversity and inclusion front and centre
The death of George Floyd and the global focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has also brought racism and its impact on mental health into sharp focus. Combined with the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people from BAME communities it is likely that BAME staff will (rightly) expect employers to address these concerns going forward.
Make sure people are taking annual leave and recovery time
As with any period of intense and unrelieved stress, when the stress is lifted, there is sometimes an impact on physical or mental health. You may see an increase in absence, signs of burnout amongst staff. Be prepared to support people through sick leave and rehabilitation – both through absence management but also through coaching and personal development.
Equip line managers with the skills to have conversations about mental health
If you don’t have a mental health programme it is a good time to develop one. Our close colleagues at Mental Health at Work have adapted their business focused training and organisational development programmes for online delivery, as well as developing unique content to equip managers to adapt to the realities of remote leadership.
Since 1949, the Mental Health Foundation has been the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what they do, they aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive.
Category: Expert Advice
Released On 13th Jul 2020