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As a manager, it’s extremely important to know how to address employee concerns about returning to work, particularly as we start to return to the new ‘COVID’ normal.

Many organisations in Australia and around the world are putting transition plans in place to welcome and reintegrate their employees back into the workplace. The mental health and wellbeing of employees must be at the forefront of these transition plans.

Emerging research has shown that people are suffering high levels of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, which can translate into apprehension about returning to the workplace. So, we’ve put together seven practical tips to assist in welcoming back a potentially anxious workforce and bolstering their resilience, as well as reinforcing inclusive company culture.

1. Constant and Consistent Communication

Constant and consistent communication relates to regularly updating your employees on what is due to happen and when. If you don’t yet know the particulars of a given day, it’s important to ensure you communicate them as soon as you do. Giving workers a good lead time to work with allows them to get their diaries and commitments in order, as well as giving time to react positively to events.

2. Listen and React

Find out the key worries and anxieties felt by your workforce by asking them. This could be done through an anonymous survey that is constantly available and referenced by management, as it would give employees a safe space to disclose any feedback on worries and concerns.

Daily rituals, such as morning drop off, could have become emotionally critical to some employees in these times of change. This makes it crucial for managers in a workplace to have discretion to cater for individual worker’s needs.

Returns to work are always a learning process, whether a number of employees are returning after COVID-19 measures, or for another reason, such as an injury. It may take trial and error to make  returning to work a positive experience, but keep listening to your people, adjust when necessary, and you will once again find yourself with a thriving workforce and culture.

3. Due Diligence

All companies will be putting in clear hygiene measures within their work environment. Once your organisation has done this, be sure to share the measures with everyone who works in the office. People are worried about catching COVID-19 in the workplace, so showing employees the measures you have put in place for their safety will relieve anxiety. If feedback says this is a particular worry, you can consider staggering workdays with differing start and finish times so there is less mass movement of people.

4. Create Connection

Working from home can create feelings of distance and separateness for employees, both from the people they know and the organisation they work for. Help your employees reconnect with the mission of your company and show them they are supporting a bigger goal. Re-investing emotionally in their workplace will give them a sense of purpose and help with resilience.

There has never been a more important time to invest in workplace culture. Promote team building events with specific outcomes, as this will be a chance for employees to reconnect and talk, but without the pressure of making small talk (a skill we will need to relearn after lockdown!).

5. Reinforce the Return

Sometimes, we all need a little reminder of the benefits of being back in the workplace. Don’t be shy in pointing them out for that ‘Aha’ moment in your employees.

Remember to highlight when:

  • A successful collaboration would have been so much harder.
  • A casual morning coffee catch up wouldn’t have been possible.
  • A work win was celebrated together in real time.
  • Nobody in a meeting had to be reminded they are on mute.

6. Encourage Self-Care

There are such strong links between mental and physical health. Encourage your employees to prioritise their physical health to help support themselves. This includes:

  • Regular exercise that they can maintain over time.
  • Eat a balanced diet full of whole grains, fruit and veg, and unprocessed foods.
  • Aim for at least 7-9 hours sleep per night.

7. Give Employees a Place to Talk

Employees having difficulty with psychologically adjusting to returning to work are not alone! Providing your workforce access to an enables employees to receive free, confidential, professional psychological support from a PeopleSense by Altius psychologist for any work or personal issues.