Return To Work Anxiety: 7 Ways Employers Can Support Employees

When businesses sent employees home at the start of lockdown, people fell into two distinct camps: Some were keen to work from home and thrived. Unfortunately for others, their mental health suffered as a result of having to work in isolation. Now employers are asking their staff to return to the workplace, and it seems to be triggering more mental health problems.

So how can businesses support employees with their return to work anxiety? We explore.

How we Feel About Returning to Work

Ipsos recently conducted a global survey of how employees feel about returning to the workplace. The key findings from this report for the UK are as follows:

  • Before the pandemic, only 24% of Brits worked from home
  • Since the start of the pandemic, homeworking has risen to 46%
  • 76% of British respondents said they work from home more now than they did before
  • 43% said they think we will be back in the office within a year
  • 33% said they didn’t think things would ever return to how they were before
  • 46% of us say we would prefer to work from home more than we did before
  • 60% agree that they are more productive when working from home
  • 31% of would rather quit our jobs than return to the office full time

When asked how many days they would like to work from home, this is how the people of Great Britain voted:

  • Five days a week — 27%
  • Four days a week — 11%
  • Three days a week — 21%
  • Two days a week — 11%
  • One day a week — 5%

However, we’re not all suffering from return-to-work anxiety. In fact, it would seem that some of us are, in fact, many see returning to the office as a good thing. Surprisingly, 24% of British workers say they don’t want to work from home once the pandemic is over. 48% of us also agree that we miss being around our work colleagues.

Employee with a big smile on her face as she returns to the office
Some of us have really missed being around our colleagues and can’t wait to get back to the office.

Why Employers Should Care What Employees Think

The British Chamber of Commerce quarterly recruitment outlook from quarter two of 2021 reports that 38% of UK businesses wish to grow within the next quarter. However, 70% said they are struggling to recruit the staff they need to meet their business goals. With recruitment being such a challenge for UK employers, the last thing they should be considering is making any moves that would upset their workforce.

7 Ways Employers Can Support Employees Returning to Work

Offer a Hybrid Work Model

The statistics above clearly show that we all feel differently about returning to work. Therefore, the best way for employers to achieve a harmonious workforce is to adopt a hybrid work model or blended working. Offering such flexibility would enable employees who are happy working from home to continue doing so. Likewise, it permits those who feel more comfortable being around their team members to return to the office.

Make the Office Safe

If your office is safe, staff will be more likely to want to return. Office safety doesn’t just mean maintaining physical safety measures such as social distancing and promoting personal hygiene. It may also mean revising your company sickness policy to encourage staff to stay at home if they are unwell.

Communicate With Employees

It’s important to reassure employees that your company understand the damaging impact returning to work might have on their well-being. It will also make employees feel more confident in returning to work if they know what measures are in place to make the workplace safe and support their mental health at work.

Encourage 1:1’s

One to one meetings create a safe space for employees to discuss their concerns confidentially and without judgement. Prioritising individual sessions sends a clear message about your company’s commitment to supporting staff who might be struggling with returning to work.

Employee suffering from return to work anxiety, slouched and biting his nails
Return to work anxiety is very real and affecting many employees who have never previously shown signs of mental illness. There are many ways employers can make their transition back to the workplace an easier one.

Provide an Employee Assistance Programme

While your people managers may care about their teams, they are not trained professionals to deal with mental health conditions. Managers should be trained to spot the warning signs of employee mental health conditions but have somewhere to refer individuals for mental health support.

Promote Work-Life Balance

A healthy work-life balance is a major contributing factor to employee mental health and wellbeing. However, it’s not simply enough to put it in place and forget about it. Employees take their lead from senior management.

For example, let’s say your company introduce a policy to take a one-hour lunch break and finish on time. However, if managers continue to work late, or through their lunch, employees may feel under pressure to do the same.

Managers should lead by example and actively encourage their teams to adopt a healthy work-life balance.

Change Attitudes to Sickness

Calling in sick can have a massive impact on mental health in the work environment. Senior managers will often turn up for work when they’re sick because they think it sets a good example about attendance.

However, they often don’t consider the impact it has when they pass their illness onto other staff who don’t get paid for sick days. Not to mention, other members of their family who may be on a low income.

Even having to call in sick can be a stressful situation for employees. For example, they may feel judged by a member of HR when they make the call. Or put under pressure to attend by an unsympathetic manager.

Presenteeism is no longer fashionable: Covid has brought to light the need for a change in attitudes from the top down. Bring your company up to date by educating your HR team and encouraging senior managers to lead by example.

A Few Final Thoughts on How Businesses Can Support Employees with Return to Work Anxiety

Return to work anxiety is a real problem for many people. However, there is such an abundance of jobs available at present that if employees are not happy with their current working arrangements, they will very quickly find a better option. Therefore, it pays for companies to develop a sense of empathy for their employees’ well-being.

Having a plan in place to assist employees with return to work anxiety can make them feel welcome in the short term. In the long term, this will improve your employer brand and encourage others to see you as an employer of choice.

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