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Returning To The Office – Not As Simple As You Thought

  • Blog
  • 4:46 reading time (ish)
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Have you found yourself feeling a little more stressed than usual recently? Maybe a bit more anxious to go out into crowded places than you once were, or easier to distract? Don’t worry – most people are! If that’s the case, the prospect of returning to work can feel a bit daunting, if not completely overwhelming, and your employees are probably feeling the same. But stress and anxiety can have a big impact on your productivity, so how do you offset the stress and make going back to work an easy and stress-free process?

Understanding The Impact of Covid

There is no denying that Covid-19 has changed a lot of things in the world, and in business. Companies of all shapes and sizes learnt quickly that they had to change how they did things, become more agile and work out how to operate in the new, uncertain world. But while most businesses were looking at how to operationally survive, they missed one key area – the mental health of their employees, who have spent over a year and a half working from home. They have all been under extra stress and strain, with heightened levels of anxiety and a distinct lack of mental health support available. All of this means that while you might be excited for your employees to come back to work and continue life as normal – they might not be.

Just to put that into perspective, just of the few things Covid has done to adult mental health include:

  • 60% of adults feel their mental health is worse than it was pre-pandemic.
  • People with experience of mental health have seen their mental health worsen.
  • Those without previous experience of mental health problems have experienced poor mental health in lockdown.

This means that even your most resilient employees may have found the lockdowns and ‘living with Covid’ process difficult, and may benefit from some extra support when it comes to returning to work. And believe it or not, you will too.

The Link Between Productivity and Mental Health

It’s generally pretty well known that a happy employee is a productive employee. Numerous studies have shown that happy employees are more engaged, more likely to go above and beyond and tend to produce more high-quality work than those who aren’t. All of which are good things for your business!

But mental health plays a huge role in how productive an employee can be for you and at the moment only 33% of employees are actively engaged in their work. This is just one of the reasons forward-thinking companies are investing in more structured support for their employee’s mental health and wellbeing – and seeing around a 12% increase in productivity as a result! And that’s before you take into account the other benefits of proactive mental health in the workplace – like improved stress resilience, boosted creativity, higher productivity, higher levels of empathy and increased morale.

Managing The Transition

So what can you as an employer do to support your employees, reduce their stress and make the transition back to work as comfortable as possible? There are hundreds of things you can do, but a few of our favourite ideas include:

Offer Hybrid Working: If you have employees who are nervous about returning to a full office, or are struggling to find their feet with work-life balance, hybrid working is a great option. This allows your employees the flexibility and space to manage their stress, acclimatise to the office at their own pace and transition back to normal working in a low-impact way. It has also been proven to reduce sick days and free up time that would be spent commuting for employees to focus on physical and mental wellbeing.

Invest In Workplace Wellness: One of the often undervalued elements of good mental health is exercise and a healthy diet, especially when it comes to combatting workplace stress. Arranging a workplace wellness scheme, like getting discounts for gym membership, offering fitness classes in-house or providing free, healthy food are all great ways to help employees feel better about themselves.

Mental Health Days: Destigmatising mental health is a big challenge in corporate environments, but it can have huge benefits. One of the ways you can achieve it is by offering ‘mental health days’. These are a set number of days your employees can take during the year, separate from sick leave, if they are struggling with their mental health and need some time to work on themselves and reset. They don’t have to give a reason to management (nor should they be asked), but instead just claim the mental health days as and when needed.

Brief Your Managers: Support and morale flow from the top down, which means every manager in your business should be briefed on the impact of Covid-19 and their role in supporting their teams. This might include setting up regular check-ins with employees, raising awareness or encouraging a culture of open communication and acceptance.

It’s important to remember that everyone deals with stress in different ways, and so employers will need to manage their approach to employee wellbeing a little differently. If you aren’t sure where to start in supporting your employees during this difficult time, your first step should be to ask them. This will allow you to develop a wellness scheme that really delivers for your employees, and ultimately will leave you with a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

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