Returning to Work: 8 Key Strategies for Businesses to Prepare for and Support Employees

The COVID-19 crisis has confronted leaders, managers and businesses with one of the biggest challenges ever encountered in protecting the physical and mental health of employees along with a severe impact on business operation and productivity.

Many people and businesses have learnt to adapt to discovering and implementing new, effective and creative ways of keeping things going.

Adapting to WFH has brought both difficult demands, as well as huge opportunities for different ways of working and doing business.

Through this crisis we have not only witnessed the adverse impact on our physical, social, financial and professional status and wellbeing, we have also seen how hugely detrimental this has been to people’s mental health.

Millions of us have had to make major adjustments to personal loss, isolation, restriction of movement/travel, social distancing, job insecurity and unemployment, as well as combining work with home life. All of which have contributed to high levels of stress, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, along with increased mental health problems.

Learn more: Getting us through the crisis: 10 ways to build mental resilience

Returning to Work – the Next Big Challenge

With the recent decision of a gradual return to work, employees and businesses are faced with a major new challenge.

How can they prepare for and support a safe and effective return to work?

Sustainable strategies, to address this issue, require recognition of a number of factors.

Understanding and responding adequately to stakeholder expectations, safety requirements for physical and mental health, as well as addressing the psychological impact of this crisis are crucial in supporting employees to re-enter and to confidentially engage in their work.

A significant starting point is the acceptance that a return to work, for many people, will not be business as usual and that working practices will need to change.

It is also important to be aware that individuals react very differently to challenging events, so it can be useful for leaders and managers to be prepared for a range of different responses.


How to Prepare for and Support Employees Returning to Work: 8 Key Strategies

1. Acknowledge Employee Needs & the Impact of the Crisis

Leaders and Managers can greatly benefit from an awareness and understanding of the psychological and emotional consequences of the present crisis. A clear acknowledgement of the situation, its impact and the continuing risks express both the recognised responsibility and enlist joint cooperation.

2. Check-In & Offer Emotional Support

Leaders and managers should also take time to check in on employees and find out how they are doing.

Empathy is an important part of how to express a genuine understanding and interest in the experience and welfare of others.

Listening and acknowledging how the situation could be impacting people and offering appropriate support services, helps decrease fear and promotes a sense of security.

3. Ensure You Have Open & Continuous Communication

One of the most helpful and essential processes, particularly, when dealing with crisis situations, is providing employees with relevant information on their work, as well as the business status, ensuring to keep people regularly updated.

In seeking to reassure and reduce anxiety and uncertainty, employers can support by providing a clear explanation of work changes and expectations, along with details on how the situation is being managed.

In responding to the Covid-19 crisis, it is particularly important to clearly communicate the health and safety measures, which have been put in place to protect the welfare of all employees.

People need to have confidence that someone is taking responsibility and that action is being taken to address the situation in the best way possible.

4. Understand Expectations & Remain Flexible

Whatever the expectation there is a need to listen, acknowledge and wherever possible try to accommodate reasonable expectations.

Respectfully expressing what clearly can be done rather than what cannot be done for unmeetable expectations.

Being flexible and making reasonable work adjustment is vital to being supportive, as well as gaining optimal engagement and productivity.

Businesses should consider the possibility of flexible conditions related to work hours, working from home, employee roles and tasks, time off, an adaptation of working practices and provision of any necessary resources.

5. Review & Establish Your Business Processes

Businesses should ensure that comprehensive and up-to-date policies and procedures are established, which specify clearly defined regulations and resolution strategies.

Enabling businesses to perform at optimal level involves having people and operating systems, which possess adaptable and flexible reactions with a problem-solving approach. Employees are then fully informed and can function within an effective structure with clear guidance.

6. Match Present Demands & Needs with Appropriate Responses

Businesses and employees greatly benefit from being supported and cared for through the guidance and resources they are given.

Following any crisis, businesses should be committed to getting things back on track, as safely and quickly as possible.

Identifying the present demands and needs of employees and responding in a direct and practical manner actively supports this process. This also contributes to building a strong and positive company culture, in which employees are more able to trust and feel safer.

7. Navigate a New Course

If businesses are to maintain direction and respond successfully to the needs of employees and the demands of the situation, then openness to different ways of doing things is an absolute necessity.

Progress can be held back by insisting on sticking to a particular course and not adapting to working practices.

Recognising when something is no longer necessary or fit for purpose and altering direction, serves to constructively optimise an employees’ return to work.

Leaders and managers can develop and implement changes through lessons learnt, good practice, continuous feedback and clear complaints and corrective measures process.

8. Connect & Utilise External Professional Services

Following a crisis, people can often feel fearful or apprehensive about returning to work.

Businesses can then benefit from investing in support services, as well as collaborating and building new partnerships.

Working together with relevant professionals and organisations can aid innovation, a greater sense of safety, better engagement, increased productivity, as well as the creation of strong and effective support structures. Most importantly this can promote the positive health and wellbeing of leadership and employees.

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