Managing employee mental health as we return to the workplace

Burnout, stress, anxiety; it’s safe to say that recent events have been testing for people regardless of industry, sector, or experience when it comes to mental health.

The difficulties the pandemic has presented have highlighted the importance of putting mental well-being first like never before and supporting mental health in the workplace has never been more critical.

The issues the pandemic have caused are nothing new. Mental ill-health and emotional wellbeing were already significant problem amongst employees, and only a few years ago, 17.5 million working days were lost due to mental-health-related sickness.

More recently, we’ve had to deal with illness, loss, trying to work from home whilst caring for others or homeschooling and lack of interaction with others, which has taken its toll on us both physically and mentally.

The number of employees reporting mental health concerns has risen by 24% since May 2020, research ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week revealed.

The report found that more than half (51%) of the 2000 employees surveyed reported they have a mental health concern compared to this time last year. The report also found that 63% of 18-34 years, and 37% of 55+ year olds were experiencing concerns surrounding their mental health.

Now, as we being to manage our return to the workplace policies, and the logistics around how we do that safely, ensuring we understand the needs of our employees from a mental health standpoint is more important than ever.

We’ve seen, from our own small-scale research, that a blended, hybrid return to work approach is being implemented by most companies. While many will be looking forward to a mix of in-office and at-home working, this approach brings with it a number of challenges regarding employee’s happiness and wellbeing after more than year working from home.

Businesses have changed significantly from where they were in March 2020, so with that in mind, we’ve gathered together 5 key things that leaders, managers and HR should be considering in order to facilitate an effective return to the workplace:

  1. Understand what makes each person tick

Getting to grips with what motivates the people in your team will allow you to manage them better and manage their return to the office more effectively.

Having worked in a different way since we were thrust into lockdown, you will no doubt have learned more about your teams and what’s important to them than if life had continued as normal. Being aware of these factors that influence them, and being flexible in your approach, will make for a smoother transition into the new policy.

  1. Recognise that everyone is different

Recognising that no one standard approach exists to facilitate a safe return to the office and finding the balance between how you operated pre-pandemic and during it is key.

A personalised approach for each employee is important, and this ties back to the first point, as well as having a clear and well-thought-out return-to-work policy. Involve the wider team in your discussions and consistently review and update policies based on feedback to ensure you are getting things right as best you can for your employees.

  1. Create a stigma-free work environment

If members of your team prefer to work more days from home than not and that’s agreeable per your policy, they should feel safe to do so without reproach.

In order to get the best from them, they need to feel they are supported in their decisions on where and when they work most effectively. If the last 15 months or so have taught us anything it’s that people can be trusted to perform under circumstances outside of what was perceived to be the norm.

Likewise, it’s important to make sure they’re included and valued if they’re spending more time at home and are afforded the same perks and opportunities as those more regularly in the office.

  1. Importance of education among management teams 

Regardless of the approaches, plans and processes you implement across your business, if you don’t have a management team who understand their role in creating a safe return to the office environment, they simply won’t be effective.

Therefore, educating these members of the team, ensuring they’re all on the same page and improving their knowledge and skills in supporting their teams is crucial.

  1. Develop an ongoing plan to manage risks

Putting in place processes that focus on minimising and managing mental health risk factors can help with an effective return to work policy.

Carrying out stress risk assessments, creating a mental health plan, establishing or engaging with support services such as employee assistance programmes and developing awareness across the wider business are all effective tools in managing the potential risk factors.

The above are just a few of the things we at Digital Republic have considered as we start returning to work ourselves – it’d be great to hear what others are doing so we can ensure we are doing the best for our team.

So, if you have any suggestions or things your company is doing to manage your mental health as you return to work, we’d love to know. Drop us a quick message sharing your thoughts here

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