Top tips to support staff returning to the workplace
The ongoing consequences of COVID-19 and lockdowns are likely to be having a measurable impact on the mental health and wellbeing of APS staff, many of whom may be looking to their agencies to provide a safe, supported return to the workplace.
As APS offices begin to welcome back more staff, it is likely that some may be feeling apprehensive, uncertain, yet also excited about reconnecting with colleagues and a return to ‘normal’ work routines.
As our society is now living with COVID-19 with no clear end-date in sight, it is clear our workplaces will not operate in the same way as they did pre-COVID-19. Additionally, some staff may understandably express concerns about returning to the workplace if they feel uncertain or unsafe about their risks of exposure.
Staff at all levels may require a period of adjustment, as new routines require time to settle into.
There isn’t one right way to go about the process of supporting staff transition back to the workplace. However, here are some simple tips for agencies to support your workforce through this change.
1. Communication is key
Regular organisational communication channels may have changed due to the impact of COVID-19. Let your workforce know how you will keep them informed, and when and how they may be consulted on issues or policies as they arise or change. Clear, consistent messaging is critical to reduce confusion. Be honest about what may have changed in the workplace, as well as what has not changed. Contact points should be clearly identified for individuals who require additional information or support.
2. Support staff to feel heard
Acknowledge that everyone’s lockdown experience was different, and individual wants or needs to come back into the office likely differ as well. Use staff feedback to help inform further action.
3. Consider and discuss introducing flexible work arrangements
Or promote it as the norm if it is already part of your agency’s policy. Prepare managers and staff to have regular conversations about how they will achieve a balance between home and the office.
4. Highlight the benefits of sharing time in the office with team members
It’s an opportunity to reconnect, to brainstorm with colleagues, and to re-establish more casual ways of connecting in-person rather than virtually.
5. If your office has been implementing a gradual return to onsite working,
Ensure staff know that further changes are likely to happen as the environment also changes.
6. It is possible to become complacent about COVID-19 safety protocols after a period of time back in the office
Communicate regularly to everyone on the safety measures you have in place, i.e. mask rules, where cleaning equipment is located for work stations, what the office cleaning schedule is, et cetera.
7. Acknowledge new realities of living during a pandemic
Ssuggest some solutions to any anxiety people may feel about coming back into the workplace. This could include:*
- Commuting – allow people to commute during off-peak hours if possible. This may look like working a part-day at home, or offering a car parking-share arrangement that aligns with the staff rostering system.
- Cleaning of communal equipment – provide cleaning supplies and employ cleaners regularly.
- Ensure any customer-facing staff have protections in place where possible, i.e. a requirement for customers and staff to wear masks or show vaccine certificates if applicable to your workplace and/or local jurisdictional arrangements.
8. Remind managers that compassion is key during this process
Hesitancy to return to the workplace should not be viewed as non-compliance, but rather as an understandable response to exceptional circumstances during a global pandemic, and for some a loss of the increased effectiveness and convenience of working from home. Support staff to see the benefits of returning at least part of the week to the office and work with them on creating a personal plan that supports them to balance their work and home life.
9. Provide ongoing support for managers and leaders
Acknowledge many managers have led teams through the challenges and uncertainty of the last two years of the pandemic. With a return to the workplace, there may be some tension and conflict as staff adjust to working face-to-face, in a time where there is hyper-vigilance on social distancing and hygiene. Provide leaders with access to coaching, strategies, tools and resources to deal with conflict, manage team dynamics and to manage diverse or hybrid teams.
10. Reaffirm your agency’s commitment to staff mental health and wellbeing
Remind staff of mental health and wellness supports, such as your agency’s EAP that they can use in the event they feel overwhelmed or anxious about the changes.
11. Embed support for staff who continue to work remotely
This included formalising opportunities to stay connected with the work of the Team and agency. Consult with staff on how best to communicate, implement and manage changes impacting the team and work.
* Beyondblue. (n.d.). Tips for managing back-to-work anxiety.