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Returning to Work: supporting your employees through the transition

One in two workers still feel uncomfortable about returning to the workplace

As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease around Australia, organisations need to prepare to reopen their businesses and start bringing people back to work.  During this period of transition, there are some very specific work health and safety issues to consider.

Every business will have their own unique challenges. However, many concerns will apply across the board: where should we begin and how can we best protect our people? One thing is certain, the post-COVID-19 work environment will not be the same as the one your people left.

Whilst there are many new business considerations to take into account, such as changes to hygiene practices, workspaces, meeting facilities and technology to ensure the health and safety of your people, understanding the new situations your people may face should be taken just as seriously.  Whilst many will feel excited about the return to work, it is important to understand that there will be many who will also be feeling anxious and may not yet feel comfortable or safe returning to work.

What steps can you take to build a mental health culture to protect your employees’ mental health and safety during this tumultuous time? 

Have a plan
Make sure you have a plan in place before bringing employees back to work.  Communicating with your staff that you have a plan in place that complies with public health requirements will help them feel at ease.  This should involve the likes of a staggered reintroduction of staff back into the office; informing staff of your planned rigorous cleaning schedule of high contact surface areas and new rules about physical distancing in the office.

Undertake a psychological safety audit
This is the first step. Work Options can assist you to undertake a psychological audit to assess your organisation’s attitude towards mental health, and provide tools which will provide you with a baseline measure to gauge improvement.  Find out more about psychological safety audits.

Ensure you have a good mental health policy in place
A good mental health policy is critical in the de-stigmatisation of mental health throughout the organisation. It should outline the organisation’s definition on mental health, the organisation’s commitment to support staff, internal and external supports for staff and prompts for management to offer mental health support to staff. 

Highlight internal support resources you have in place for employees
Make sure your staff have access to and are aware of appropriate support resources you have in place, such as Human Resources, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and the organisation’s drug and alcohol policy.  Find out more.

Communicate regularly with your employees
It will be important to reassure your employees that it’s okay to feel anxious about returning to work and that you will support them through this transition.  Maintaining open channels of communication between management and employees will be critical.  Provide frequent updates – quality and quantity matter.

Learn to recognise mental health red flags
It is important for managers to learn to recognise potential signs of low mental health so that they can address the issue early.  Some signs may include difficulty concentrating, getting easily angry and frustrated and excessive absenteeism. Read our article on ‘Managing mental health in the workplace and spotting the warning signs‘.

Adopt more flexible work practices
Recognise that things are not normal.  To recognise and accommodate the new situation your employees face, you may need to take a more flexible approach, such as finding alternative modes of transport for those who rely on public transport, reviewing expectations around productivity as a result of frequent cleaning of workspaces, hand-washing breaks and other safety protocols, or further supporting remote working for those who need it.

Be empathetic
Talking to your employees about their mental health regularly is an important part of monitoring their safety during this transition.  It isn’t always about knowing what to say and being able to provide a solution, what’s important is how you talk about it.  Keep an open mind and be prepared to listen, even if you don’t agree with how they are thinking.  What they are experiencing feels real to them.

Employees and employers will need to be sensitive towards the stresses and anxieties that many will be feeling during these trying times.  Returning to work will be difficult for many, so communication, cooperation and adhering to new hygiene procedures will make the return to work safer for everyone.  Now, more than ever, it is critical to look after your employees’ mental health.

To learn more about how you can build a mental health culture and support your employees during this challenging time, visit https://workoptions.com.au/services/mental-health-consulting/ or contact us on 9957 1300.

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