Feelings of return to work anxiety
The research from the Limeade Institute goes on to reveal that 77% of those surveyed cited being exposed to COVID-19 as their top source of anxiety. But, the return to work anxiety that some employees are feeling is not just about the risk of catching COVID.
For some employees, the anxiety that they are feeling is about experiencing new things or returning to activities they haven’t done in a long time, such as the return to a busy office after months working from home, readapting to the daily commute and direct or indirect physical contact. Whilst we can control our own behaviour to some extent, we cannot control the behaviour of others who may be less worried.
Everyone is different, but when noticing any changes the first port of call for an employer is to try and talk openly with the employee. It’s essential that a safe space is provided where the employee feels that they have time to talk, and will be listened to – somewhere they can share their worries when feeling anxious, without judgement and fear of stigma, can really help. While simply talking can sometimes feel daunting to employees, it is a crucial first step to addressing difficult emotions.
It is vitally important that those employees who are anxious do not feel embarrassed or under pressure to ‘just be grateful’ that lockdown restrictions have been lifted. With this in mind it is crucial that employers pay attention to potential indicators of distress or signs of not coping amongst their workforce.
Collectively, employers must make sure employee wellbeing is a top priority as they return to the office. And as a duty of care, employers need to be mindful of those who may be feeling higher-levels of anxiety. With this in mind, Kooth has put together seven practical tips employers can implement to support employee mental wellbeing as they return to the office:
- Keep employees informed: ensure there is no ambiguity on, or miscommunication surrounding, the ‘return to work’ plan, timeline and policies. If things change, let them know.
- Lead by example: as an employer, it’s important to set a good example and ‘practice what you preach’. If employees are being asked to be in the workplace 60% of the time, make sure leaders are too.
- Communication is a two-way street: provide a safe space for employees to raise their concerns and fears about the return to work, i.e. an anonymous pulse survey or employee engagement platform/app and/or mental health first aider.
- Be flexible and fair: ensure that employees are being listened to and concerns and fears that employees have on the return to work are being addressed. And adjust plans and policies to make individual employees feel safe and secure.
- Provide mental health training for all leaders and managers: on how to identify and respond to mental health issues and concerns from themselves and employees.
- Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins with employees: go beyond the perfunctory ‘how are you’ and ask open-ended questions to really find out what’s concerning employees and how as an employer you can support them.
- Signpost employees to your mental health support: ensure all employees are familiar with mental health services available within your business.