Returning to work might sound all well and good on paper, but in employees’ minds it creates big mental health hurdles that responsible firms will have to navigate.
This month the UK government have been urging employers to get their staff ‘back to the office’ to attempt to kick start the economy. However, great swathes of offices, all over the UK, are still lying empty. Ones that have reopened are barely at 10% capacity, while many others are even more sparse than this.
But perhaps the reasons why are understandable. In May a poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development reported 44% of workers felt anxious about returning to their offices. Localised lockdowns since only seem to have added to this apprehension, with a more recent YouGov poll finding two-thirds of remote workers are now nervous of a return to their office. Top concerns include the commute just to get there, but stress is also rife about proximity to people and catching COVID-19 in their workplace itself. The GMB Union recently found a whopping 95% of the 3,500 workers it polled were now worried about picking up the virus at work. It also revealed just 18% thought their workplaces would be safe, with 60% feeling they were being put under undue pressure to return. Clearly, concerns about returning to offices are not good for employees’ mental health.
Of course, all firms have to comply to the basic legal minimums around making their physical buildings safe (masks/screens/safe distancing etc) – but what will really stand companies apart are those who adopt a strategic, planned and regularly reviewed approach (preferably technology-enabled) to manage a well-thought out and worry-reducing communications policy. Tesla, for example, recently introduced its ‘Return to Work Playbook’ as a new company document.
But while new statements, or policy documents relating to returning to work wellbeing, could be ad-hoc, what employers really need to consider is offering personalised communication as well – communication which can be automatically generated as other red-flag indicators, such as regular or prolonged absence, are alerted to managers’ attentions. Maybe a particular team are all ill; maybe there are more mental illness issues amongst certain workers than others; maybe employee assistance programmes are being accessed by a particular profile of an employee. This is the information leaders really need to support their communications, and to enable them to introduce more targeted health and wellbeing management.
It’s only through HR technology platforms – that can draw together data from across the business - where these sorts of wellbeing enhancing communications can realistically be made. Having a company document section in your HR software solution allows firms to put all their wellbeing documents and updates into one clear repository, and lets managers notify those who need to see them that they’re available . The platform allows individuals to request to work from home, input sick leave and also request holidays from wherever they’re working, with manager approval. This allows for one single source of truth where HR can report on and track absences in-app.
It’s only when firms take a targeted approach, based on real-time data (including even cross-referencing against drops in performance or observations within other areas of the app), that potential wellbeing issues staff might be having around their return to work can be better addressed. While the ‘what’ firms do is always vitally important, just as key is the ‘how’ they are doing it – as sensed by staff themselves. And it’s when staff feel really their bosses are taking a human, and considered, and caring approach to them based on insight, that they know their psychological safety needs are being met.