Physical return to work: 7 tips for mental support

The psychological pressure caused by the corona crisis should not be underestimated. It is very important to tend to employees’ psychosocial needs and/or difficulties upon their physical return to work. Psychosocial prevention advisor Stéphanie Leblanc has put together a list of what needs to be considered. “It all revolves around listening and communication.”

“The summer will be an important transition period, with various types of employees returning to their workstations. Not all of them will be exhibiting the same behaviour”, according to Stéphanie. “Some of them can’t wait to get back into the office full-time. They are excited to return to their desk and may not be as meticulous about sticking to the corona measures. Others are going to be more reserved and prefer remote work as they don’t feel comfortable with frequent contact in wider circles just yet.”

According to Stéphanie, this will prove quite the challenge for employers to manage. “Rules and agreements must be transparent, clear and enforced. That is why it is vital to start planning for the physical return to the office in time. In addition to practical work organisation, it is essential to tend to the psychological pressure during this transitional period.

These 7 golden tips will prove very useful to any employer.

Tip 1: Comfort your employees

Some employees are going to feel insecure or anxious about returning to work. In order to alleviate that pressure, it is important to clarify what measures you are implementing to avoid infection at work: masks, hand hygiene, distancing, entrance and exit separation, etc.

The increasing vaccine uptake will dramatically reduce the risk of infection over time.

Tip 2: Make sure that timely and clear information is provided to all with regards to work-organisational changes

The present circumstances demand specific adjustments to our trusted way of working. Change may lead to resistance. It is useful to clarify the how and the why of (temporary) adjustments to employees in order to minimise such resistance.

Put yourself in the employees’ shoes. Many of them are going to want to go on vacation soon. They will be taking their postponed holidays and it is going to be a challenge to grant everyone their well-deserved vacation. Employees will be facing practical questions, such as ‘what to do when returning from a red zone?’. Make sure to explain to your employees in advance how your organisation will be handling this. Will they have to take additional days off to cover the quarantine period? Or will they be able to opt for unpaid leave instead? Providing clarity on such practical issues will help increase support among employees.

Tip 3: Listen to employees’ concerns

Avoid one-way communication about the adjusted way of working. Involve your employees and be sure to hear their needs and ideas. Map their needs and concerns with a questionnaire or working group.

As an employer, you should take into account that we are facing an extended period of flexibility and creativity. Enter into a conversation with your employees. Try to get a sense of what they need, accommodate these needs as much as possible and ensure transparency about any decisions made.

Be sure to involve employees who didn’t or weren’t able to work remotely too. Some have been working at the office since March 2020. It is recommended to organise conversations with them as well.

Tip 4: Motivate your employees to keep adhering to the corona measures

The corona crisis is taking a long time and is testing our resilience. But we have no choice other than taking it into account for a long time to come. It is very important to keep all employees involved in the goal of eliminating the risk of infection. Vaccinated colleagues may feel less inclined to follow all of the corona measures strictly, at work as well as outside of work. You will therefore have to keep vaccinated employees motivated to continue observing the measures just like everyone else. Emphasize the collective interest and the fact that we will all be able to return to a ‘normal’ life and way of working more quickly if everyone keeps observing the measures. In the end, this will benefit us all.

Tip 5: Provide managers with the right framework for helping employees

Some employees will find it difficult to transition from working remotely to going back to the office. Plus, this corona period has already proven a time of long-lasting stress for many: working from home combined with children, missing one's colleagues, less internal alignment... The return to the office can be expected to cause an increase in absenteeism due to psychological issues. Managers who are aware of the risk of stress or fear within their team, are able to respond appropriately. We offer a First Aid for Psychological Issues Coursethat teaches them how to recognise signals and respond accordingly. This will allow them to act swiftly and avoid absenteeism.

Tip 6: Take care of yourself

Though employers have an exemplary role towards their employees, they shouldn’t forget to take care of themselves as well. After all, they do not tend to put their own mental and physical well-being first.  Before an aircraft takes off, cabin staff will always recommend that you take care of your own oxygen mask before helping others. This is for good reason. As an employer, be sure to take care of yourself and get help in time, i.e. from a psychologist or coach.

Tip 7: Don’t forget: a healthy mind requires a healthy body

The Sciensano health questionnaires demonstrate that mandatory remote work has a negative impact on our health. Not enough exercise, unhealthy dietary habits, sleeping (more) poorly, increased consumption of tobacco, alcohol or sedatives... As an employer, your can motivate your employees to live a healthier life (e.g. by promoting lunch walks or organising outdoor meetings). This has a positive impact on their mental resilience as well as their immune system!

Our psychosocial prevention advisors are ready to help

Staff who are mentally troubled (for example, stress, fear, workload, work-life combination, etc.), can count on our psychologists for a confidential conversation during office hours. Your employees can reach us at 02 549 71 57 or info.edpb@mensura.be. This reduces the chances of people missing days at work because they are struggling mentally.