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As the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is motoring forward with plans to get people back into work and relaxing the two-metre rule to allow businesses to reopen, employers are developing plans to bring employees back to work safely, giving careful thought to flexible working schedules, seating configurations, visitor policies, use of lifts, food delivery, and much more.

While returning to work certainly includes logistical and operational planning, it is not just physical well-being that employers must take into account.  Equally important is how organisations will respond to employees’ emotional and psychological health.

Looking after employees’ mental health and wellbeing has been a challenge since the coronavirus outbreak started, and many HR professionals see it as an ongoing one, particularly around managing employees’ anxieties about going back to the workplace and there are many challenges that lie ahead.   Here are a few things we are implementing;

Make employees’ well-being your top priority and be transparent
Employees want reassurance that their companies will put their people and safety first whenever possible, especially in difficult times.  Communicate this with employees and adapt your employee engagement programme to capture how they are feeling during this time, ask for feedback to find out what you can do to make them feel safe. 

Above all communicate what you are doing as an employer to keep them safe, make this visual so employees can see it around them and feel reassured.  Also use social media, intranet sites and internal online resources to communicate successes and next steps. 

Transparent and regular briefings will help employees to have a positive view of their employers and they are more likely to focus and re-engage with organisations vision and values.

Keep employees up-to-date with new Government guidelines and let them know how these measures are being implemented, what the timeline is, and how the measures will be monitored and enforced. They also need assurance that steps are being taken to update protocols and processes as the situation evolves.

Train and coach leaders, managers, and colleagues on how to support employees.
Leaders and managers will have much of the responsibility for ensuring a smooth return to the workplace. Ensure that these key people are trained and coached to be able to spot signs of anxiety and emotional distress and factor more time into their day to check on employees.

Armed with insights and feedback, managers can model needed behaviours and share them with their teams to support new ways of working.

Anxiety will be further reduced as employees re-engage with their colleagues through informal and formal support networks.  Quarantining and social distancing have meant that people have lost the very support systems and coping mechanisms that would otherwise have helped them weather the storm.  Ensure employees can initiate forums for reconnecting with one another as they adapt to the new normal.

Be flexible & open to change
Our large scale work-from-home deployment has shown it is possible to get work done not only remotely but on a variety of schedules that best accommodate people’s preferred working hours and personal commitments.

Employees expectations have risen and as workplaces reopen, employers can expect pressure to maintain this flexibility, particularly from those with children or who want to spend more time at home.

The challenge for employers is a not only a logistical one, with new operational layouts, but also requires a change in attitude and mindset from measuring performance by visibility and time spent at the desk to measuring on output and results. This may require employers to make changes to reporting structures and to adopt new management techniques. It is about placing more trust in the hands of the employee, showing confidence in their professionalism and flexing the job around the person rather than asking the person to fit an outdated and rigid structure.

The return to work offers a great opportunity for organisations to re-evaluate working models and to position to ensure that skilled employees are not discouraged to return. Indeed, the concept of flexible working is one that appeals to employees across the board – not just those returning from an extended period of time-off.  If the focus on returning employees triggers a change to a more flexible approach for all employees the result will be a workforce that is happier, more motivated and better-equipped to produce its best work.

This is a time of rapid change. How employers communicate with and support employees during this will undoubtedly impact productivity, and employees’ trust in their employers.

Joanne Regan-Iles, Executive HR Director EMEA – TTEC

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