As employees across the country begin to trickle back to the workplace, and employers decide what future ways of working will look like, some are returning to the office more enthusiastically than others. Surveys suggest that, across FM, almost half of those currently on furlough have expressed anxiety about returning to work.
And while at least some of those experiencing anxiety attribute it to fear of catching Coronavirus, the vast majority cite both psychological reasons, as well as more practical issues, such as a lack of HR support when returning to their workplace after more than a year away.
Where does workplace anxiety come from?
As the physical dangers of Covid begin to decrease, we may find the psychological effects of the virus and so much time in lockdown are thrown into sharp relief.
Moving to a work from home model will have been difficult for many, especially those who did so in cramped conditions, or with children at home. For those who have also experienced furlough, there has been an added layer of uncertainty.
But after 14 months, workers rose to the challenge, found a rhythm and many began to discover the value of working from home – the lack of commute, a better work/life balance, more flexibility around childcare.
Having made the massive adjustment to working from home, expecting employees to suddenly make another adjustment, back to their office, with a variety of rules in place, with minimal support, may just send them off to look for a role with more flexibility around remote working and flexible hours.
How can you help?
So what can employers be doing to help manage workplace anxiety that returning staff might be feeling as they move back to office based working patterns?
Here are 4 actionable tips to help you move forward positively:
1) Use your HR function
HR professionals are best placed to create systems and processes that will ease the transition for people. They can make sure the communication levels are high, and remove any uncertainty for people returning to work, by giving clear instructions and processes, and explaining any changes that have taken place with seating, one-way systems etc.
2) Utilise the tech available
One of the ways to help ease the transition is to use the technology available to help make the workplace feel more familiar. Video tours of a new office set up, video meetings with those who are already back in the office, welcome back emails to help people settle back in to a routine, will all help to ease the anxiety. Use workplace chat tech, like Slack, to help keep communication open and flowing as people return.
3) Offer phased returns
Rather than asking people to go from working from home full time to working in the office full time, offer a hybrid approach to begin with. Give people an option to come back a couple of days a week or for half days at first. Gradually work up to being back in the office full time, so they have time to work through their anxiety and get used to a new environment.
4) Invest in counsellors and mental health support
Your people have been under an immense amount of strain over the past year. As you bring them back and ask then to handle another adjustment, give them some tools to help them. This might be a counsellor to help them work through what they’ve experienced and lost during the pandemic. It might be productivity coaches to help them how to re-learn mindsets and habits that may have been lost while furloughed.
Employers have to weigh up if returning to the office is what is best for everyone on their staff teams. But those who decide to bring teams back, need to think carefully about how to do that in a way that reduces anxiety and the negative impact on their staff.