How to prioritise the wellbeing of your employees as the world opens up again.

Exciting opportunities are awaiting businesses and their staff now that Freedom Day has arrived. With government restrictions lifted, companies are contemplating a time of stability and renewed growth. Many are assuming lockdown will soon be a distant memory and facemasks a thing of the past.

But is the return to ‘normal’ really going to be that simple?

There are some big questions employers should be asking as they adapt themselves and their people to the so-called new freedom ahead.

  • How ‘free’ are your staff feeling? Some may feel they’re being forced back into the office against their will.
  • How badly do they want to come back to a crowded workplace? Some will be keen to end the isolation, but others will be quite happy to stay safe at home and avoid the commute.
  • Have your staff become used to a way of working that suits them better than the office? They may have found their ideal ’creative space’, which they don’t want to give up.
  • How confident are they feeling about being among colleagues again? Perhaps their self-esteem has taken a knock after months of working alone.
  • Are they suffering from poor physical or mental health, as a result of isolation, bereavement or infection from COVID-19?

In a recent blog, we looked at some important steps employers should take to put the welfare of staff first as they return to work.

In this article, we’re going to hone in on the wellbeing of your workforce: what you can do to make sure your employees stay well. As the working world opens back up, how can you support them so they perform brilliantly and help your business flourish and grow?

Prevention is better than cure.

Gone are the days when ‘employee wellbeing’ meant just managing your staff’s sickness absence. Most employers understand that being proactive with your staff’s health and wellness is good for business. And that’s especially important now.

Your people have been through a lot. As they begin to start thinking about a return to more formal working patterns, they need your support and encouragement that things are going to be okay. You need to take steps to reassure them that you take their mental health and wellbeing seriously.

Consider a Wellness Action Plan

A positive way to check in on your staff as they get used to post-COVID changes to their working lives, is to invite them to complete a Wellness Action Plan.

The brainchild of mental health charity MIND, a WAP is a document staff fill in to chart their health and wellbeing needs. They then share it with their manager and, if they like, their colleagues.

It’s a collaborative way for employees to reach out to their bosses and say: “This is how I work best; this is where I struggle; this is where I need your help.” And it’s an opportunity for employers to better understand the welfare needs of their staff, then step up and accommodate those needs.

A WAP is not just for staff who consider themselves to have a mental health condition. It’s for everyone. What better way to improve employee morale and performance than listening to them as individuals, and taking steps to bring out the best in them?

A WAP will typically ask employees to talk about:

  • Stress triggers and early warning signs of poor mental health.
  • Manager support and actions to help improve wellness and tackle stress and poor mental health.
  • The employee’s own wellbeing strategies.

Don’t just keep the door open…

The reassurance by managers that ‘the door’s always open’ is often an alibi for doing nothing to look out for the welfare of their staff. If you want to rebuild a happy and healthy workforce post-lockdown, you need to open the door, invite them in and do your very best to ensure they accept the invitation!

Now more than ever, employers should be talking to staff, listening carefully to their concerns, and taking action to help.

  • Set up return-to-work conversations. Now is a good time to check in on how your employees are, even for those still working from home. Follow up with regular weekly check-ins.
  • If a team member expresses concerns for their mental health, invite them to create a WAP. And remember, mental health covers a broad spectrum, from serious mental illness to not feeling great about their life and/or work.
  • Discuss what they would like to see in a work environment that promotes good mental wellbeing.
  • Discuss plans for the business – what has changed, what is new, exciting, different.
  • Avoid surprises: be clear that changes will be introduced only after consultation and time for staff to adjust. Unannounced changes, even to minor things like seating plans, can be huge stress triggers.
  • Ask for your employees’ thoughts, ideas and lessons learnt over the pandemic.

Think about reasonable adjustments you can make.

Even if you’re not legally required by the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to an employee’s working conditions, it may be a good idea. Doing your best to help staff to get back to normal is good practice.

And it’s good for business too: if a change to how an employee used to work will help them operate more effectively going forward, why wouldn’t you want to allow it?

Think about:

  • Changes to working hours (e.g. to avoid peak travel times or to fit around school hours).
  • Time off for appointments (e.g. for counselling or therapy).
  • Temporary reductions of workload to help manage stress.
  • Phased return to working in the office.
  • Continued working from home.
  • More regular breaks.

Could hybrid working be the solution?

For many of your staff, contact with other team members is an important form of social interaction they’ve been missing out on for months. Reuniting colleagues is likely to be a happy and emotional experience, boosting staff morale and increasing productivity.

It’s simplistic to say that laptop time is just an efficient alternative to commuting time. Not leaving the home can lead to isolation, unhappiness and lack of useful work. Many employees are eager to get back to the workplace after so many months of working alone.

A lot of businesses will insist on bringing their people together physically as soon as they can. Others will continue to cope well with an entirely virtual workforce. For most, it will be a mixture of the two.

Hybrid working looks set to become the new norm, with staff coming into the workplace on designated days, and working the rest of the time from home. So how can you make sure this works well for your business?

As part of your communications with staff, ask them where their best creative working space is.

One employee may have found that working outside under a tree during lockdown has released her creativity and made her more productive – as well as making her feel good. Another’s creative space may be the spare bedroom overlooking the garden, and that too may have sparked great ideas.

Wouldn’t it be a shame to lose this energy and productivity if the default new-world option for these staff is to come back to work at a desk in a windowless office?

So ask your employees: “Where do you work most productively?” Their answer is likely to depend on the tasks they’re performing and their mindset at the time. But by tapping into their experiences of working during the pandemic, you’ll be sure to discover new ways for your business to work smarter.

Offer help wherever you can.

Whether your employees are coming back to the workplace or not, the lifting of restrictions represents a major shift in policy and is likely to result in a whole range of emotions from elation to fear.

The best course of action as an employer is to keep your eyes and ears open for signs of stress, hardship or anxiety among your workers – and to embrace the new energy, excitement and creativity afoot as employees respond to the prospect of a new period of relative calm and certainty.

  • Offer support for staff in financial difficulty – staff who have been furloughed on reduced pay may benefit from loans, debt counselling and/or access to an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Help employees with childcare challenges – you can offer flexible working hours, on-site crèches and assistance with finding nursery places.
  • Help employees improve their physical fitness – offer gym membership and fitness classes after work, or how about guided lunchtime walks around the locality?
  • Set realistic expectations – productivity won’t go back to pre-COVID levels immediately. Ensure everyone has a clear understanding of what’s expected. Give staff goals to remove the stress of the unknown.

If you’d like advice on how to help your team adapt to the new ways of working, or need realistic, logical and cost-effective solutions to any other HR challenges, please get in touch. We’d love to help!

Edelweiss HR Ltd

Cirencester Business Park
Tetbury Road
© Copyright 2022 Edelweiss HR Ltd. All Rights Reserved

  • "The team at Edelweiss HR have been efficient, extremely professional and have completely taken the burden away in helping us set up the Human Resource needs for our newly established charity. We will continue to work with them on a regular basis. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for Human Resource support."

  • "Quick, comprehensive, flexible and great value for money. I no longer have to worry about HR, Anna's got it covered!"

  • "Edelweiss has been guiding Cripps & Co for the last two years around HR matters to do with its c500 employees. Anna Gage has grown to know the Cripps group fairly intimately over the period and has become an important and supportive friend."

  • "Anna has been our retained HR advisor for almost three years. She started working with us when we hired our first employee, and she remained an invaluable support to us as the organisation has grown. Anna is responsive, experienced and gives good advice. I I would strongly recommend working with her to anyone that needs HR support as they grow their business."
  • "Anna and collegues at Edelweiss have been a huge help to Fermoie in the year since we started working together. As a small business, growing quickly it seemed the right time to seek external assistance to ensure we were following best practice and properly advised where needed. Anna has been brilliant in all areas, helping to prepare a comprehensive handbook for our team, reviewing contracts and advising on specific issues. We could not recommend her business more highly."
  • "We have been dealing with Anna Gage as our HR consultant for the last two years, during which time Anna has provided us with great support in the areas of recruitment, return to work of sick employees and the resolution of numerous internal disputes with successful outcomes. Anna has also provided excellent support to our young and inexpereienced managers and provides relevant, timely and practical advice on how to proceed with HR issues. I would confidentely recommend Anna Gage as an HR consultant for your company."
  • "I thought Anna's course regarding how to tackle difficult conversations and tricky situations very helpful. Covering a range of typical and not so typical situations that we all deal with on a day to day basis, this course was a perfect mix of content and interactive exercises between the group, which kept the learning fresh and easy to follow. Its great to know we are not alone! Thank you Anna I would highly recommend this course."
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram