Health & Wellness

Helping Employees Return to the Workplace

By Judith Mewhort on May, 20 2020
3 minute read

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As the world prepares to return to the workplace, employees are understandably anxious and full of questions. Many are worried about the daily commute, others of how they will navigate their way through the office or on the job site. Mostly they worry about whether they’ll be safe.

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As an employer, it is incumbent upon you to provide a safe workplace. Many businesses have developed plans around the physical safety of their people. Considerations have been given to maintaining social distancing guidelines, the issuing of PPE, and new disinfecting routines.  Government agencies have published re-opening guidelines. But even employers who have developed thorough return to work plans and communicated those plans to their staff will be faced with the challenge of helping their team adjust to an altered work environment.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, the opening up of the economy will create an increased sense of anxiety and stress. The rules will be less clear and we’ll have to figure out some things for ourselves. As an employer, you can help your staff by providing clear, easy to follow guidelines with respect to the rules around the next phase of operations. Explaining what the rules are, and how they are intended to keep co-workers and the public safe, will go a long way to reducing employee concerns.  

So what specific measures can businesses take to help ease employees into the next phase?

 

Lead with science 

Throughout this time, health authorities such as the BC Ministry of Health have been constantly updating their findings to provide people with the most up-to-date, scientific information. Create policy based on the most current information available from our public health experts and be prepared to make changes as we learn more about the virus.

 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

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Not only will successful employers utilize a variety of methods such as online meetings, Slack channels, text messaging, and the company intranet to convey  return-to-the-workplace policies, they will seek feedback from the team to increase buy-in and to help improve the plan. 

It is likely that your business has gotten increasingly more comfortable communicating without sitting down for face-to-face meetings. Keeping up these styles of communications, even when back in the workplace will help keep your employees safe and reduce their anxiety. 

 

Conduct regular check-ins 

Have team leaders hold regular distance appropriate meetings with their people collectively and individually to provide an opportunity to answer questions and listen to concerns. Ask your employees how they feel about the transition back to the workplace, if they’re comfortable with the work environment and their commute. Solicit feedback on changes you can make to ease your employee’s concerns.

Make sure that management regularly assesses the emotional load of leaders at all levels.  Sometimes the more senior a person, the less likely they are to remember that self-care is as important as caring for others.

 

Coach team leaders to recognize that change is hard.

Help your team leaders recognize that anxiety doesn’t necessarily respond to logic and that shame, blame, guilt, and judgement are counterproductive. 

Help them to anticipate unexpressed worries and to provide an outlet for employees to express concerns, possibly anonymously. Encourage employees and leaders to access the free mental health resources currently available, and reiterate the support available through the company’s Employee and Family Assistance Plan. Provide reassurance and offer resilience tips and training.Sometimes, a simple reminder to your team of how well they have managed all the changes in their daily lives thus far goes a long way in calming fears.

 

Find the lighthearted

marcela-rogante-ohbfKsIEbJQ-unsplashThough the situation has been difficult for almost everyone, there is the opportunity to reflect and find the humour and levity in the situation. Ask people to think of positive outcomes they have experienced or feel they will experience as a result of the pandemic. Encourage people to post good news messages and share funny moments they’ve had since the pandemic has begun. 

As this virus and our collective response is as much about our emotional well-being as it is our physical safety, a great free resource for employers is Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health which includes a guide to help employers through workplace trauma.  While Covid-19 is not specific to the workplace, it has created many of the same emotional responses people exhibit when experiencing trauma. The guide includes suggestions such as the creation of a ‘safe room,’ providing emotional intelligence training, and helping leaders to understand their own tolerance for stress.

The pandemic has affected all of us, it has been unexpected, and something we were unprepared for. So be kind, be patient, and as employers provide as much structure and certainty as you can as we move into the next phase of life under COVID-19.

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