Service: Human resources 

Topic: Mental wellbeing 

Four tips for supporting your employees in their return to the office

By Deval Patel

30 Jul 2021

As restrictions in the UK continue to be lifted, businesses will be considering their policy on returning to the office. For some employees, working from home was a shock to the system if their company had never offered this as an option or it wasn’t feasible. 

Now the UK’s remote workers are facing a new challenge – getting back into their working routine in the office and in social situations. For some, this will be an exciting and long-anticipated step back into normal life, but for others, it will seem daunting and may even generate feelings of anxiety. 

With this in mind, the term ‘re-entry anxiety’ has been developed to describe the feelings of uncertainty the lifting of lockdown restrictions has caused. According to a recent poll, many Brits now feel ‘uncomfortable’ going back to their pre-Covid lives. ONS Statistics has revealed that nearly half of over-16’s currently rated their anxiety as ‘high’, more than double the numbers since 2019. So, how can businesses help employees that may be struggling with this transition back to normality? 

1. Rethink your office space

Take a look back to March 2020 and consider the following: How many people were seated in a certain area? Did you consistently have working and stocked hand-washing facilities available for employees? How many employees could be in the office at one time? 

Based on the changing government guidelines, office environments must still be actively controlling factors such as ventilation, reducing contact between employees, regularly cleaning facilities, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and more.  Although restrictions are being lifted, office management must continue to consider these measures. This will provide any cautious employees with reassurance that they have a clean and safe workspace for when they feel ready to be back in the office. 

2. Open communication is key 

If working from home has taught us anything, it’s the importance of communication and maintaining relationships. It’s crucial that during this time Human Resources or the team updating any policies in your company are communicating with the wider team consistently and effectively. 

Avoid posting long, jargon-filled policies on the company intranet where your team will never see them; instead communicate a clear, concise message directly to employees. With every update, no matter how small, circulate this in an email or consider scheduling a call. This way, employees are up to date and know every step you are taking to keep them safe and comfortable in the office and remotely. 

3. Consider flexible working 

For some companies, there may not be a pressing need to return to the office. At Gerald Edelman, we will be taking a hybrid approach with the team, elements of which will be under periodic review, but the option to work from home is still there. This enables us as a firm to keep our team connected while still offering flexibility. 

This will differ with each business, but the main takeaway from this tip is that every employee will have a unique home life situation and everyone is adjusting to this change differently. Some may want to be fully vaccinated before getting back to ‘normal’, some may be living with a vulnerable person, and some may just need that bit of extra time to ease back into daily life. Management should be now taking steps to ensure they understand their team member’s feelings or encouraging them to discuss their situation with HR if necessary.  

Although many will return to the office, please don’t forget your colleagues who may be working from home due to personal circumstances. Make a conscious effort to include them, not only with the online meetings, that most of us are now accustomed to, but with the informal meetings too, simply checking in on them to see how they are feeling, or having an online coffee for a more relaxed catch-up. You may also want to suggest a lunch, dinner, or coffee meeting for one-to-one as this may be less daunting than returning to a larger group in the office. This will ensure that they feel included and that they count, and will ease the load or any anxiety that they may be experiencing.

4. Avoid the ‘C’ word

The final tip on supporting employees through this next stage is simple, avoid discussing Coronavirus! Now, this is more of a general tip for managers and colleagues but start changing the conversation in team meetings and one to one catch-ups. The pandemic has undoubtedly caused a seismic shift in a lot of our lives, however, it will be more helpful to those feeling anxious to discuss other topics.  

It’s not a race

It is important to share with your employees that it’s not a race back to old habits and routines and consider people's situations and concerns. Of course, every company will have a different approach but the first priority should always be employee wellbeing, mentally as well as physically. There are various sites such as Gov.uk, that offer guidance for businesses but the steps you take now should fit your business and employees.

Gerald Edelman & NatWest Mentor 

Are you a small business still developing your HR team? GE has recently partnered with NatWest Mentor to provide HR Consultancy Services. Often SMEs feel the need to outsource a portion of their HR responsibilities, which is usually due to a lack of internal time or resources. They know the importance of mitigating risks, engaging employees, and driving organisational performance cannot be overlooked but need a provider they can trust. That’s where our partnership with NatWest Mentor can really make a difference.

We’re always on hand to discuss your current situation; to learn more about how our HR consultancy services could support your business, see our service breakdown page here

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