‘Returning to work’ is not a phrase that only describes a woman returning from maternity leave, it covers those who have been away from work for a long period of time. This could be due to long-term sick leave, parental leave for a male employee, or even returning from a vacation. In a post-COVID-19 world, almost everyone will have to return to work, and so we’ve put together a few tips for returning to work, for both employee and employer.
It is important to acknowledge that this is just as much about mental wellbeing as it is about hitting the ground running on your first day back.
Tips on Returning to Work for Employers
Prepare the Workplace
Unique to our time, employers have to make the workplace suitable for returning employees. This includes thoroughly cleaning you workspaces (air ducts, ventilation systems), putting up signs for areas that have been properly sanitised detailing when it was last cleaned, ect.
Also, provide your workers with masks and hand sanitizers (available throughout your premises). SHRM.org encourages you to put hand sanitizer in places such as elevators where it had not been provided prior to the pandemic.
Also, make sure to properly follow federal, state, and local guidelines. The U.S. Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state and local governments have all released guidelines for returning to the workplace.
It is important to put in place social distancing protocols for the workplace, placing limits on the number of people in a meeting and avoiding social gatherings inside the workplace.
Communicate with Your Employees
It’s vital that you communicate well with your employees returning from work. They need to know what you’re doing to help them readjust to the workplace, with or without a pandemic. Returning employees during a pandemic need to understand the measures you’ve put in place to keep them safe and send out regular updates on any changes to these restrictions. This will make employees feel more comfortable and satisfied that everything is being done to keep them safe.
Outside of the pandemic, employees should be aware of any changes that concern them before they arrive back at work, so inform them of changes to company policy, if they’ve missed any employee training, essentially anything that may affect their role when they return. They should feel that they are being supported by your organization as they transition back to the workplace.
Be sure to offer counselling to employees, so that if they have any problems they feel that you are listening to them. SHRM.org tells us that this pandemic has been a traumatic experience, and the best way to deal with trauma in the workplace is to offer employees a chance to talk about their experience. It’s healthy for your organization to be invested in the mental health of returning employees in a post-COVID-19 world since ‘normal life’ has been altered indefinitely.
Similarly, for circumstances outside of COVID-19 you may find the need to offer employees counselling for the same reasons. Their illness or pregnancy may have some knock-on effects into their work life and readjustment can be hard. It’s important to recognise this and allow those employees the opportunity to work through this process with the guidance of another. This step will also help towards your organizations inclusivity goals.
Post-COVID-19 flexibility is key. Different people will have different levels of worry towards the passing on of infection in the workplace, and so you may find some are more chilled out than others about the restrictions in place. There have been companies who have recently set up band systems (Green: Relaxed, Yellow: A bit Cautious, Red: Anxious) which employees can wear to signal to others that they’re either more worried or more relaxed about the social-distancing rules.
Likewise, you may find an employee is too anxious about the spread of infection that they aren’t comfortable coming into the workplace. If this is the case, consider how else you might help them. Consider allowing them to work from home, either full-time or part-time. Decisions like these don’t hinder the progress of your business and improve the inclusiveness of your business.
Also, if you receive feedback from employees that inform you of things that aren’t working or ways to improve certain processes, then make changes to suit their needs.
Tips on Returning to Work for Employees
Keep In Touch With Colleagues
Keep in touch with your fellow employees and social media can be a great way to do this. It keeps you up to date with the changes happening in the company day-by-day and makes it easier to acclimate when you return.
Catch Up with Training
If there’s any training that you’ve missed try and catch up before you go back to work. If it can be done remotely, attempt to complete it within a few days of returning so that you’re not behind before you return. However, if this is not something that can be completed at home it is best to try and get it done on your first couple of days back. This means that you’ve taken the initiative to catch-up and it will make you feel more confident about your return.
Ask About Specialist Support Services
You may find it useful to find out whether the company you work for can offer you any Specialist Support Services, that can help you whilst you acclimate to the work environment. If these kinds of services are available to you, then use them, that’s what they’re there for! Particularly, if you feel you need someone to talk to about your concerns or if you need to put in place a more supportive system to help settle you in. It’s never a bad thing to ask for help when you need it.
Regular Catch Ups with your Manager
Take the initiative to schedule in catch-ups with your manager. Short of a therapy session, this means that you can let them know of any concerns you may have but also give them the opportunity to support you. Let them know what you’re finding helpful or difficult and let them suggest ways that you can change it.
Use this opportunity to develop a wellness plan with your manager, which are an easy, practical way of helping to support your mental health at work.
Tidy Your Workspace
For some, tidying your workspace is great way to start the day off well. It clears your desk and allows you to prioritise your day. If you have overflowing mail and documents that have landed on your desk over your time off then take the opportunity to see what needs your attention first.
Make a List
Another way of sorting your priorities is to make a list of those things that need to be completed more urgently. Make a list of prioritised task and complete them one at a time. This is a way to reduce the stress induced by the amount of work that you come back to on your return.
Give Yourself a Break
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do too much too quickly. By thinking about the tips we’ve given above and prioritizing your time well, you will be focused and working more efficiently. Don’t panic about the amount of work to be done and finish on time, to come back to your list the following day.
Returning to work for whatever reason can be daunting, but there are things that organizations and individuals can do to help make the transition period easier and more comfortable. It’s important that an employee feels supported when coming back to work, especially now with a global pandemic changing the way workplaces are functioning.