Return to work: Tips for employers

Laura Phelps-Naqvi | 18 June 2021

With recent research from Bupa Health Clinics finding that a staggering 65% of employees are anxious to return to work, organisations are facing one of the biggest people challenges since… well, last year.

With Boris Johnson confirming what we all suspected was coming, businesses now have another four weeks to prepare for the return to work. This extended deadline provides employers with further opportunity to ensure steps are put in place to support employees to feel as comfortable as possible about the return to work.

With that in mind, here’s our tips on what businesses should be doing now to help curb the return to work anxiety.

Tip 1 – Communicate what is expected

This should have already happened but now’s the time to ensure that there is no ambiguity and that all employees understand what will be expected of them. Use this added time to encourage staff to raise any concerns or queries and address them in further internal communications such as a return to work guide or FAQs. This is a bonus opportunity to reassure staff that your approach is considered and has been informed by their thoughts. This is an exercise that should also be running a few weeks post return to take a litmus test on how it is going and if any changes need to be considered.

Tip 2 – Listen to the needs of individuals

The pandemic has hit everyone in different ways and in each organisation, there will be a variety of appetites for returning to work. Whilst policies and guidelines need to be in place to inform the business, these should not blindly be used as a blanket rule for everyone. Listen to the needs of individuals and really consider if there are fair alternatives to accommodate their needs. The game of attracting and retaining talent is changing along with the rise in flexible working. Those that embrace the needs of the individual will come out on top. It’s also important to remember that for new starters (even if ‘new’ was 18 months ago!) they are unlikely to have met their team, line manager or other colleagues in person as yet and so an onboarding programme with be needed. This also applies to those returning from extended leave (maternity/paternity leave, long term sickness etc).

Tip 3 – Rebuild morale

The past 18 months has been a long hard slog for nearly all organisations and certainly their employees. If you’ve made it to this point, you should be able to fully trust the team you have in place so don’t revert back to any old micro-managing styles that can completely knock morale. Demonstrate that you trust them and create an engagement plan around rally excitement for the return. The sense of psychological safety is really important here. Remind employees what they enjoyed about coming into the office and what they will gain when they return. Socialising will play a key part in this for many so ensure you provide opportunities for the team to reconnect, whether that’s after-work drinks or teambuilding exercise. Some research is suggesting that staff generally prefer home working, but from our experience, many are keen to establish an agile working model which includes both home and office-based work, recognising this and understanding the wants of your team will help to drive engagement and sense of ownership.

Tip 4 – Be flexible

Whether your organisation is going to a full return or a hybrid model, you should see this policy as a first draft. Once you are back, in whatever capacity that might be, review and adapt. Be open to change in any direction and use this as an opportunity to shape your organisation and its culture around an environment that suits the needs of the organisation and the people within it. Those who get this right are likely to see enhancements in attraction and retention levels.

Laura Phelps-Naqvi is a chartered occupational psychologist and a leadership consultant at leadership development team at NSCG. To learn more, please get in touch.

Share this: