Concerns about returning to work after COVID-19 are on the rise across the globe.
Businesses and employees alike are trying to determine what work will look and feel like in a post-pandemic world.
And managers and leaders are having to figure out how to support their organization and their team members.
Some companies have already asked employees to come back onsite full or part time. Others decided to continue remote work for the foreseeable future.
But regardless of your organization’s decision, you can bet that it is definitely causing angst.
Because returning to work after COVID is yet another huge change for people on top of 15 months of prolonged stress.
Society has kept track of the physical toll COVID continues to have on humankind. But the mental and emotional impact is also signifcant, so we can expect that this will show up in big and small ways in the office.
So, what does this mean for the workforce?
COVID-19 Implications For Mental Health And The Workplace
It means that proactive mental health and wellbeing efforts in the workplace need to ramp up.
Even before COVID, 1 in 5 U.S. adults reported mental illness every year, including at work. And throughout the pandemic, 90% of employees said COVID increased their stress level.
A 2020 SilverCloud Health Survey findings also reveals that 30% of U.S. employees experienced an increased need for mental health treatment during the pandemic
With those numbers you can expect that your employees have been impacted by the pandemic in ways that are both visible and beneath the surface.
What Does This Mean For Your Team?
In addition to the mental health implications of returning to work after COVID for individual team members, you also need to determine how you will reconvene as a group. And the work environment you want to co-create.
Returning to work after COVID will impact the team’s productivity and culture.
As the leader of the group, this could be a defining moment. You can set the tone for the transition back to normal operations and simultaneously establish the type of leader you are and want to be.
How Leaders Can Support Employees Returning to Work After COVID
Let’s face it. If you work for a larger organization, you may be responsible for your team but don’t have the final decision on office operations and protocols.
And if you are a small business, you are likely the final decision-maker and everything rests on your shoulders.
But regardless of your work environment, as a leader you’re committed to doing what is best for your employees.
Here are a few ways you as a leader can support your team members’ mental health and wellbeing returning to work after COVID:
1. Talk about the elephant in the room – acknowledge the mixed emotions, experiences etc.
- Acknowledge that it is yet another change for the employee, the organization and the world
- Acknowledge that employees will have different reactions about resuming normal operations – some will be happy, others sad, and probably more will have delayed reactions until they experience what returning to work will mean for them
- Ask your team to support and look out for one another during this time of adjustment; this gives them a sense of accountability to each other not just to you or the company
2. Highlight what steps have been taken to keep everyone physically safe.
Follow the protocols already established by your company. And if you are responsible for establishing the protocols yourself, you can stay aligned with the Center for Disease Control Return to Work Guidelines. Some examples may include:
- Mandatory COVID vaccinations
- Increased cleaning and sanitary protocols
- Use of masks, social distancing, etc.
3. Be clear about expectations as people return.
What will be the same, what will be different, what you need from them and ask what they need from you. Amongst expectations it will be important to reinforce that the team goals and deliverables will still be met.
4. Promote resources available offered by you and the organization.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
- Access to mental health professionals through benefits plan
- Incorporate personal check-ins into your 1:1s (and if you manage other leaders, make sure they do the same). You can certainly also use team meeting time to check in but some may prefer to discuss their significant concerns in private.
5. Take care of yourself.
Your employees need you now more than ever before. But you will not be able to give them your best support if you are physically and mentally rundown yourself. So remember to also prioritize yourself.
Despite being in the pandemic for over a year, it continue to feel unreal for so many of us. And we really won’t know the full impact of COVID-19 until sometime well in the future.
But I do know one thing for sure. After such a life altering event, employees (and everyone else) are desperate for a sense of security and stability.
As a leader, if you keep that in mind as you interact with your team and leverage opportunities to create a safe and stable team environment, it will go a long way to increasing employee engagement,loyalty, and well-being.
This article is Part 2 of 3 in the Mental Health & The Workplace series. Part 1: 5 Important Facts You Need to Know About Mental Health in the U.S.