In the coming weeks and months, the lockdown will start to lift and some of us will start returning to our places of work.
Yet even as the lockdown eases, it is clear that employees are concerned about the return. 63% of employers say that general anxiety is their organisation’s main challenge at the moment. This concern is understandable. As Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at CIPD, says: “Under health and safety legislation and common law, employers have a fundamental duty of care for all staff – in terms of both their physical and mental health. Meeting this obligation will frequently be challenging given the valid concerns workers will have about their health and whether their employer is meeting the new guidelines – and how. These concerns will raise levels of stress, which are already elevated in many people and if not managed supportively will lead to more people suffering from anxiety and depression and being signed off work sick.”
So as your employees start to return to the workplace, what could you be doing to ease their concerns?
Provide Practical Support
The first – and most important – step to easing employees’ concerns will be putting in place the appropriate physical measures to protect them.
Guidance about returning to work is likely to cover social distancing, risk assessment, good hygiene practices and the use of PPE. These measures will obviously need to be put in place.
You could also consider sending photographs to employees showing how their working environment has been set up to reduce the risk. This would give them valuable reassurance before they even return to the workplace. And as well as providing PPE, you could provide training on the correct use to maximise effectiveness.
Staggered start and finish times will help to minimise contact, as will allowing employees to continue to work from home when it makes sense for them to do so. CIPD has useful guidance on flexible working measures for returning to the workplace.
Provide Proactive Mental Health Support
As well as the vital practical measures, providing mental health support will also be essential.
As a first step, Dr David Poots, Senior Occupational Health Physician at BHSF, says: “These are anxious, difficult, unprecedented times and we don’t have any similar experiences to go on so perhaps one of the things to do is acknowledge that people feel anxious and they’re not making a fuss.”
Ben Willmott highlights the importance of training and supporting line managers to treat people fairly and with consideration. He says: “An ability to demonstrate empathy, to listen and to offer flexibility and support will be critical to trust-based employment relationships, which support not only people’s wellbeing but also their motivation and productivity as the nation gets back to work.”
This guide has more on how employers and managers can support their employees – and themselves.
Job security is a clear worry for people. Over 60% of people are worried it will cause long-term unemployment. And in organisations making cuts, only 23% of workers feel strongly confident that they will be an important part of their company’s future after the pandemic.
It will therefore be important to communicate clearly and honestly about the likely impact of the pandemic on your business. As Jeremie Brecheisen, Senior Managing Consultant at Gallup, says: “Employees know there are no guarantees, but they do expect clear plans and some reassurance.”
As well as informal support, you may need to provide more formal support such as counselling. Make sure employees know what support you provide in this area and how they can access it.
Preparing for the Next Stage
As we move to the next stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new set of challenges will emerge for employers. But by giving employees the support they need you’ll have them on side and ready to work with you to take the business forward.
As Edelman concludes: “It is urgent that business enables fact-based decisions and allows employees to feel part of a broad societal movement to fight the challenges that lay ahead.”