Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing highlights five key tips to smooth the transition for staff returning to the office.
Ahead of 19 July, when Covid-19 restrictions are due to end, including social distancing, mandatory face coverings and official ‘work from home' guidelines, Howden states that employers must "tread carefully, communicate well and listen to their workforce" when making their preparations.
Mark Fosh, divisional director at Howden, commented that regardless of what type of workplace environment is involved, from offices to factories, workshops to a mix of on-site and home working, employers must realise that the needs of their staff will not be same as they were pre-pandemic."
"While companies will be preparing a Covid-safe office for Freedom Day, they need to consider how they will support the different psychological, emotional and wellbeing needs of their staff too," Fosh said.
"Whereas some employees cannot wait to be back in a social work environment, others may be feeling very anxious. They may have been shielding or haven't used public transport for many months. Businesses may have new joiners who haven't met their colleagues yet or employees who are returning after being furloughed- these are all key considerations for SMEs so rushing to adopt the old ways of working won't work."
Howden's five essential tips are:
- Prepare for the return by communicating plans
This should include the creation of a re-orientation plan to manage workplace return processing, including details of what has changed, new measures that provide help and assistance, and how employees can raise any concerns.
Howden states that by mapping this plan out in advance and ensuring line managers are full briefed, support pathways can be clearly advised.
- Communicate and listen
Employers should share their guidelines with staff as to how the return will both look and feel, and reduce stress of employees by considering a phased return approach that can promote flexibility as the ‘new norm.'
Communication on returning should also be a two-way element. Gathering feedback and listening to staff concerns is vital to understanding and effecting support.
- Let employees know support is available
As staff may have experienced serious illnesses, such as Long Covid, or a bereavement while working remotely, employers need to make sure that the right support is in place and signpost how these services can be accessed.
This can be done by highlighting details of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) or contact details for charities, such as MIND or Mental health UK, Howden states.
- Focus on health and wellbeing
Employers should conduct regular meetings with employees to check on health and wellbeing, being particularly aware that some may have contracted Covid previously or be suffering with Long Covid, while also allowing for a period of readjustment.
Howden also stresses that employers need to be alert to any changes in behaviour that could signal a potential mental health issue.
- Review employee benefits for the post-pandemic workplace
Employers should not assume that benefits programmes in place before the pandemic will still be suitable and should review these to ensure that evolved employee needs are being met. More robust and flexible benefits packages that offer greater support may be required.
Howden's Fosh concluded: "Issues such as mental health and wellbeing have been covered more extensively in recent employee benefits strategies, but the topic is even more critical now. There are practical issues and questions around benefits to consider, too. Are season ticket loans a thing of the past in a time when more people work from home? Should you offer discounts at gyms close to where employees live rather than near to the workplace?
"With the NHS expected to face challenging waiting lists in the years to come, should employers be considering Private Medical Insurance or other healthcare solutions to support their workforce? All these elements must be carefully considered as part of any successful return to the workplace plan."