With the government’s advice to work from home wherever possible due to end in May or June this year, many employers are starting to make plans for a safe return to the workplace. As well as ensuring that our workplaces are Covid-19 safe, it is important to remember that many employees have been working from home or furloughed for the best part of a year, if not more, and there are many considerations to make in order to support the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of our employees.

Covid-19 has changed many people’s expectations around work-life balance and some employees may be significantly affected by a change in routine. This guidance is designed to help our clients identify some of the challenges that they may face in the coming weeks and months, but as always, should you need any further support from us, we are available to guide you through this unprecedented time.

Can I ask my employees to return to the office before government advice changes?

If you have carried out an appropriate risk assessment and are comfortable that hygiene and social distancing measures can be maintained, then you can ask your employees to return to work but you must first answer 3 questions; Is it essential? Is it safe? Is it mutually agreed? If employers can answer yes to all 3 of these questions, then asking employees to return to the office shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

What if my employees do not agree to return?

It is important to take an individualised approach to employees concerns about retuning to the office. The reason that one employee may not want to return may be very different to another. The key is to ensure that you communicate with your employees and have an open discussion with them as to why the return is necessary and attempt to answer any concerns. This is the perfect time for you to think about taking a more flexible approach to working practices to demonstrate that you are taking employees concerns into consideration.

What sort of concerns might my employees have?

We have spoken to many of our clients and some of the concerns that their employees are having are as follows:

  •  Anxiety regarding fear of infection
  • Needing to take public transport
  • Juggling domestic responsibilities including childcare and pet care
  • Caring responsibility for vulnerable individuals
  • Anxiety over change of current routine
  • Breaking social isolation
  • Health and Safety fears
  • Mental Health issues

This list is by no means exhaustive but gives you an idea of the different challenges that people are facing during the current climate. It is important to take each concern seriously and listen to all concerns that are raised.

What help can I offer my employees?

Some of our clients have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) where employees have access to free counselling and support services, if you don’t have one, we can help you find the best one to suit your needs. Some circumstances may also require an Occupational Health Assessment if the impact on an employee’s mental health is considerable when they are asked to return to the office. Our new accredited courses, Level 2 Mental Health Champion and Level 2 Stress Management, can help our clients to recognise the benefits of establishing and maintaining good mental wellbeing in and around the workplace. Also, to help and at least minimise any potential negative effects of stress in the workplace.

Conclusion

Communicating with your employees is vitally important when making plans to return to the workplace. When employees are kept in the loop about future business plans, they are far more likely to be receptive to those plans. Employees that know that they are valued and supported by their employer often have much better workplace wellbeing and engagement.

It is also worth bearing in mind that with employees returning to the workplace, you may start to notice employment related issues that were not visible during the lockdown period. Should this be the case, one of our dedicated consultants are available to support you Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

As always, if you need our help with this or any other HR issue then do call us on 01536 215240.

About the Author: Carla Cifaldi

Carla Cifaldi
Carla is one of Gateway's experienced HR Consultants. She holds a Level 3 CIPD certificate and is currently studying for her Level 7 Diploma in HR which demonstrates her commitment to increasing her expertise and providing the best service to our clients. Outside of work, Carla’s passions are her dogs, handbags and her hot tub – probably not the most compatible mix!