Six ways to support employees post-lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the way we work, with many people having to work from home and others being on furlough.

As we come out of lockdown, your employees might have mixed feelings about returning to their normal work environment. Whilst they might be excited to get out of the house and see their colleagues, they might also be worried about how they will get the work/life balance right or whether it’s safe to return. A recent article in The Guardian referred to this new phenomenon as FORTO (Fear of Returning to The Office).

According to a survey by the World Economic Forum/Ipsos MORI in early 2021, more than half of employed adults have experienced anxiety around job security (56%) and found the change in work routines stressful (55%). More recently, research by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) found that almost two thirds of employees (63%) no longer believe the office is necessary.

With many organisations introducing flexible working and taking workplace mental health more seriously, the future of work looks very different. As Chris Moriarty, Director of the IWFM, says, “Employers should now make every effort to provide staff with genuine choice to perform their role wherever they feel their performance would be best supported – adapting the office space, incentives and policies to reflect the changing nature of the workspace environment.”

In this article, we look at some of the Wellcome Trust’s evidence-based recommended interventions to improve wellbeing at work in the COVID era.

Studies show that cutting sitting time by an hour a day may reduce symptoms of depression by approximately 10% and symptoms of anxiety by around 15%. Could you encourage your employees to do light activities, such as walking around the office, standing up in meetings or going outside for their lunch break?

Although buddies tend to be there in the first few months to help employees get up to speed with their new job, they can also provide vital wellbeing support. For example, they could help to spot unhealthy work behaviours (e.g. working late) and provide introductions to other colleagues.

There is significant evidence that autonomy at work is good for mental health – it’s associated with improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms, for example. You can encourage autonomy by asking your employees for their views and empowering them to make decisions.

Everyone wants to be able to meet their financial obligations each month and feel secure about their future. By supporting the financial wellbeing of your employees, you can also help to support their mental wellbeing as there is a well-established relationship between the two. This might include providing employee benefits and financial literacy training. You might find our podcast about mental health and debt interesting.

Conflict in the work-life balance, especially where employees have caring responsibilities at home, can be a source of stress and may contribute to anxiety and depression. By allowing your people to adapt when, where and how they work (e.g. through a flexible or hybrid working policy) and gaining support from their manager, you can help to boost their wellbeing. Our podcast about the future of work contains some useful insights.

There is some evidence that peer support can have a positive impact on mental health. When building this kind of programme within your organisation, try to find employee volunteers with lived experience of mental ill health as they can provide insightful support and help to reduce mental health stigma. The Mental Health Foundation’s guide to supporting mental health at work is a good starting point.

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