Occupational health practitioners will have a pivotal role to play in helping employers navigate any gradual return to physical working this summer. Alaana Woods outlines four practical ways in which OH will be able to make a difference.
The last year has meant that remote working has become the new norm for thousands of employees across the country. While this was important to stop the spread of Covid-19, it has also meant that many people have got used to their new working habits and aren’t ready to ditch the comfy clothes, get back to the early starts and return to the workplace.
Return to work
Recent research found that 65% of employees were suffering with return-to-work anxiety and, with many organisations eager to encourage employees back into the workplace, it’s important that steps are put in place to curb anxiety and support employees to feel comfortable going back to the workplace.
As well as helping to reduce back-to-work anxiety, it’s also a really exciting time for employees to get back into the workplace, return to face-to-face interaction and collaboration and socialise with colleagues again.
1) Encourage flexibility
If your clients or organisation didn’t have flexible working policies in place before the start of the pandemic, it’s important that these are now considered for returning to the workplace.
Our research has found over a third of people want more flexibility in their working arrangements and it’s important that this is something businesses consider to make sure employees feel supported.
Flexible working policies can be as simple as allowing employees to manage their own time and travel in later or finish earlier to miss the rush hour commute.
A return to the workplace will be a real transition for many people. Without the daily commute, face-to-face meetings and spending more time at home, many are going to feel the effects of getting back to fast-paced working life. Make sure they’re slowly easing back into the routine.
2) Educate managers and employees
Being well prepared is key to making employees feel more at ease.
Internal communications are really important, so ensure managers are engaging with communications teams early to make sure employees know what’s expected of them when in the workplace.
If there is training in place, make sure employees know how to access this and have completed it before returning to the workplace.
Make sure employees and managers alike fully understand any new rules that may be in place in the workplace. For example, is there a one-way system around the workplace, can they use the kitchen area and when and where do they need to wear facemasks?
3) Ensure managers are listening
Make sure you’re aware of how employees are feeling; some may be excited about being back in the workplace, while others may feel anxious or hesitant about it. Managers need to be able to manage these feelings and signpost employees (perhaps via occupational health) to any support that may be available.
Make sure you’re aware of how employees are feeling; some may be excited about being back in the workplace, while others may feel anxious or hesitant about it. Managers need to be able to manage these feelings and signpost employees (perhaps via occupational health) to any support that may be available.”
Manager training on how to support employees back into the workplace may also be available and, again, occupational health may be well-placed to lead on this.
As Bupa Health Clinics, we’ve created a checklist which provides employers with an easy-to-use tool to assist with the return-to-work process, looking at employees’ personal circumstances.
4) Make sure wellbeing services are in place
The pandemic has put healthcare at the front of everyone’s minds, so ensuring your employees have access to the services they need is important in making sure they’re supported. This can range from mental wellbeing services, employee assistance programmes, GP appointments or health assessments to keep people well and support any physical or mental health need they may have.
Overall, getting back to the workplace should be an exciting time for employees and organisations.
Making sure the right support is available and easing people slowly back into routines, is essential to help get our cities up and running again.