Returning to the Workplace
GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE
Did the title of this article fill you with fear or excitement?
The answer will give you a good insight as to how the general working population is feeling about the eventual full return to the workplace.
Almost 2 years later and so many employees are still working from home. For many other employees, not much changed, as their job cannot be done from home and they have remained in their workplace. However, for the thousands of employees who found their whole working life turned upside down since March 2020, it has been a rollercoaster ride of managing work and home life.
Before COVID struck in 2020, working from home was becoming more common place and almost a luxury for some. In saying that, this style of working is not for everyone. It has its pros and cons like any situation and depending on your lifestyle and home set up, it can either cause you relief or anxiety.
Let’s pause before we get into the nitty gritty of returning to the workplace, and recap on the pros and cons of working life in the home:
- No long daily commute – more quality time and better for the environment
- Flexi time – start earlier or later to suit your lifestyle
- Flexibility – being at home may mean you can drop your children to school, walk the dog at lunch time or even get dinner
- cooked on your lunch break!
- Possible increase in productivity – due to less distractions
- Custom environment – you decide on your workspace to suit your own tastes
- Casual Friday everyday! – working in comfy clothes, (well, for the bottom half at least!)
- Less expenses – no fancy lunch dates or travel costs!
- A lack of community and a low sense of teamwork
- Poor communication – no real time face to face communication
- Poor motivation – due to lack of guidance or structure
- Poor workstation set up and/or inadequate space
- Possible burnout – working too many hours and not switching off
- Risk to productivity – some employees may miss structure and motivation
- Distraction – while working during a lockdown, there may be children to be homeschooled or cared for and other vulnerable family members.
So, it is important for us to remember the pros and cons above and maybe find a middle ground somewhere before work-life returns to some kind of normality. Many employees and companies may already be considering that the future of office type work will be a type of hybrid, with the option to work from home and from an office, a balance of both worlds perhaps?
Bringing employees back to work after such a long time will definitely need some kind of support process from employers. Not only may employees be nervous about the health risks, but there are many other factors to consider too.
The pandemic will have a long-term societal impact, both in and out of work. Changes in the way interact socially will require many standard practices to be re-evaluated and revised. These changes will require accommodation and leeway for employees with the most significant concerns, those with the greatest illness risks and those who may be working in the highest risk work environments. Similar to returning to work after injury or long-term illness, it is important that employers maintain uniform and fair treatment, while also being considerate to all other employees. In order to do this, employers will need to involve more than just one stakeholder in this process.
A successful reopening of the workplace will require significant changes to company health and safety policies and practices, to help show flexibility to every employee. Employers will need to understand how stress and social disruption is being experiences at all levels of society.
There is no doubt that the past year has made everyone review their life, especially their work life. For some, it has created great clarity on what they want and what they don’t want and what they want to go back to. If the last year has taught us anything, it has taught us to pivot and see the positives that come from that complete turnaround and for some, we have embraced it.
Firstly, employers need to acknowledge the challenges that employees have undergone over the last year. Employee have been supporting children in online schooling, working from home, caring for other family members, limiting social contact with friends and loved ones, wearing masks, being careful and trying to keep themselves and their family healthy. It has been and still is, relentless, with no break from numbers and barrage of negative news.
When employees are required to come back to work or the office, it is critical for employers to be mindful of the mental health challenges that will be part of this transition. There is no doubt that the pandemic has created an increase of fear, depression, anger and anxiety in addition to months and months of lockdown. It is paramount that employers listen carefully to the concerns that employees have and be prepared to address them, providing them with access to mental health resources, if they require it.
Tips for Employers & HR:
Offer flexible schedules – depending on the situation of the employee, they may want to continue working from home, especially if they have a comprised family member. Also, some employees may want a hybrid situation, where they can work from home some of the working week and on site for the rest. The most important thing is that you as an employer, encourage a discussion with employees about what their needs and situations are. Then you can work out the best way forward.
Create a culture of self-care – As a company, embrace self-care. Self-care is about caring for mental, physical and emotional well-being. Supporting your employees in this will help them navigate the return to work and help prevent burnout.
Consider Mental Health days – Many companies are providing their employees with mental health days. In a time of so much change and uncertainty, employee’s area reminded to take time for themselves and their families. Sometimes a day away from the desk can help improve the psychological well-being of an employee. If your company does not have a policy like this, maybe now is the time to consider it.
In short, employers need to create a program that helps employees feel safe and cared for while they transition back to work.
Every individual’s situation is different, and everyone has been impacted in different ways. For some employees it will be positive for them coming back to work, for others it will not be. If you embrace an employee-first mindset, you will be able to support your employees and help create an environment of productivity, health, and empowerment.
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