Supporting Employee Mental Health When Returning to the Workplace

By Kimberley Wallace

Senior HR Consultant

Change can be stressful. We have all gone through an intense period of change in our working and home lives over the last 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of National Statistics has reported that 21% of adults were experiencing some form of depression by early 2021. This rate has more than doubled since before the pandemic started (previously 10% of adults).

The government announced last week that social distancing and working from home restrictions would potentially be ending on 19 July. As welcome as this news has been received by many, for some it means yet another period of transition and change.

Experts, including the Chief Executive of the CIPD, Peter Cheese, have advised that businesses don’t ‘rush to revert to how they used to work’.

Employers should be mindful that individuals adapt to circumstances at different rates and in different ways. Where some staff may welcome the end of restrictions, others may feel more apprehensive.

Employers can potentially expect a range of reactions from staff about plans to return to the workplace including some fear or resistance to change. Employers should ensure their return to the office is considered and well planned, with a focus on the employees experience to facilitate a smooth transition back into the workplace.

Businesses that want to create a positive and supportive return to the workplace, should consider the following areas to help employees through this transition:

  • Communication is key: businesses should ensure that all staff are clear on the plan to return to the office. Practical issues that could create potential barriers to returning, such as door keys, access codes, desk arrangements, equipment, and access to facilities, are well thought out and planned in advance. Communication about new hygiene approaches may also reassure staff. Line managers should be briefed on their responsibilities for supporting staff and employee mental health.
  • Promote mental health awareness: businesses should encourage a company culture where it is acceptable to talk about mental health and to ask for help. Any health and wellbeing benefits available to staff should be well communicated, e.g. employee assistance programme, private healthcare scheme, mental health first aiders, health checks etc.
  • Continuation of social distancing: employers should remain sensitive to the fact that some employees may be feeling anxious about the end of social distancing and commuting. Allowing employees to socially distance still and wear a mask if they wish to will help to reassure staff.
  • Allowing flexible working: one of the positive aspects of the last 18 months has meant that employees are appreciating a better work-life balance in working from home. Encouraging flexible working and hybrid working options could see increased employee satisfaction and maintaining better work-life balances. (See Rachel Davis’ article here about hybrid working).
  • Re-integration to the workplace: businesses should consider having a re-induction to help staff return to the workplace, particularly if they have not been into the office at all or have been on furlough. A re-induction could include a refamiliarisation of systems/equipment, cover health and safety and any new hygiene approaches, update on company news, new starters/leavers etc. Team meetings, one-to-ones with line managers and informal catch ups will also help staff feel connected with others and engaged with the business.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.