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Sierra 57: Addressing Anxiety on Employees’ Return to Work

After investigating current reports with HR & Chief Medical Advisors, Sierra 57 Consult wants to share with the plastics industry, the importance of taking care of employees returning to work. As the roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions is drawn up, employers are looking at how they can protect the health of their employees.

We have witnessed how quickly businesses have adapted to change over the last 3-4 months, and this must continue as we enter this new period of uncertainty.

There will be hurdles along the way but addressing the mental and occupational health needs of workers across sectors, is of utmost importance.

There is bound to be heightened anxiety about returning to offices and other workplaces. The sound of a cough nearby, the sharing of communal spaces during lunch or the thought of commuting to and from work could all contribute, and it’s crucial employers listen and are ready to respond. The mental health implications cannot be underestimated. If a business has mental health first aiders, they need to be accessible and high profile over the coming weeks.

Businesses should also equip line managers with the skills to spot increased stress or worry. There will not be a one size fits all approach, but having people on hand to offer an empathetic ear, and to share their fears, will help returners feel supported.

The same strategy must apply to employees who are still working from home, perhaps because of medical conditions. Long-term isolation and shielding from family and friends are bound to have adverse effects on people’s mental health. Businesses must not lose sight of those they cannot see and should ensure that employees have access to video calling technology so that line managers can check in regularly.

Employers need a clear strategy in place to address the risks employees face. The plan should include, but not be limited to minimising contact between employees, re-designing spaces and operations to enable social distancing, providing disinfectants and proper hand-washing facilities and supplying the necessary personal protective equipment.

Some businesses are exploring testing systems, but these must only be introduced when a clinically backed and reliable product is available. Employers should remain diligent by staying up to date with any developments in government guidance and strictly adhering to it.

Mark Lawson of Sierra 57 comments, “Communication is key. Some employees will have to remain at home due to their higher risk of infection. Some staff will also remain furloughed while others aren’t. Employers should avoid a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture in their communication as this can increase anxiety and damage morale.”

When furloughed workers do return, communications from HR and leaders must reassure people of their importance to the business.

There is a challenge in determining which employees are safe to return to work. Occupational health experts can provide informed advice to businesses on evaluating when and how employees should return to work. Bringing in an external occupational health professional or a trained nurse once a week can aid in helping workers ease back into work and return to productivity norms.

Employers will need to have flexible arrangements in place for different employees, to keep them safe when travelling to and from work, and when they are in the office. This should include allowing staggered working and different shift patterns.

Finally, people will have been affected by the pandemic in different ways, perhaps by the direct impact of sickness, the impact of financial burdens, the loss of loved ones and the juggling of work and home life.

Mark Lawson adds, “Until the risk of infection goes away, these are all concerns that employees will continue to face when heading back into the workplace. Wellbeing strategies will need to be robust and responsive. Using regular and rapid staff surveys can inform these strategies and help address concerns in an agile way.  Employers should feel comfortable opening up discussions about physical and mental health, resilience and coping with change. This will be key to overcoming the challenges that face the workplace.”

If you wish to seek further advice or guidance during these anxious times of rebuild, Sierra 57 Consult’s HR, Medical Advice & Employment Law Synergy partners are on hand to help.

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