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With the announcement on 5th July that rules around mandatory working from home, social distancing and mask-wearing indoors will end on 19th July, how do you know you are getting it right, not just from a physical environment perspective, but also from a psychological safety perspective?

It is a tough one because, as with anything involving humans, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key to all stress management is treating people as individuals, understanding their individual concerns and, sometimes, putting in place individual adjustments. Needless to say trust and communication is the lynchpin in all of this, allowing employees to be honest about their anxieties is vital and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have recently backed this up in their guidance for returning to the workplace https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/employees/workplace-guide-returning-after-coronavirus#gref which advocates an individualised approach to the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the workforce.

There are a number of reasons why employees might be concerned about a return to the workplace, and the majority of these will be around the fear of infection – even if there is an overall eagerness amongst staff to return to some sort of normality, and they are fully vaccinated.

As a responsible employer you will already have had a COVID risk assessment in place for some time, and hopefully this incorporates psychological wellbeing in addition to purely looking at infection control. You are likely to have reconfigured your workplace, installed sanitiser stations, created an appropriate distance between desks and in communal spaces, and enhanced your cleaning regimes and these may well still be in place for some time after 19th July.

But have you considered if and how your new protocols might make people nervous – about understanding them, about others following them, or what the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ might be?

Have you thought how to create cohesion and a familiar workplace culture when teams cannot sit together anymore? Is there likely to be additional disruption, for example from cleaning activities, which will affect someone’s concentration or focus and cause them to feel stressed about their productivity?

I mentioned earlier that communication is king, and giving employees as much information as possible about how things are going to be prior to their return will allay a lot of fears. Photos or video walkarounds of the workplace, showing any changes you have made, will mean it is familiar on their return. You can consider appointing, training and highlighting the presence of a ‘COVID Ambassador’ – someone in the workplace who can respond to concerns and address any issues – will reassure colleagues that there is ongoing support and advocacy, and you may also want to discuss the options around flexible working patterns, as this can quell anxieties around travelling on public transport when mask-wearing is no longer mandatory or being in the workplace on days when it is busier.

Above all, acknowledge that there will be concerns and make it a natural topic of conversation in team meetings prior to a mass return. In common with many workplace mental health issues it is much more time-, and cost-effective to pre-empt and manage potential stressors rather than allowing them to flourish and lead to consequences that are more expensive for both the employers, and the individual themselves.

How Pennington Choices can help… 

We had a great response to our recent lunchtime mini-masterclass on the 30th June, which looked at stress and anxiety amongst employees returning to the workplace post-COVID – and not just anxieties amongst employees, but amongst employers and managers too. This event has been recorded and will be useful for you and your organisation going forward. To access the recording click here.

To help you manage not only your COVID obligations, but also Stress and Mental Health within the workplace, we have also created a series of FREE guides for you. These can be accessed on our resources page here.