Communicate the organisational plan — be open and honest with all workers and ensure clarity. The workers have a right to know what the organisation is doing to help protect its workers, and to help them to return to work safely. Good leadership is imperative.
Keep in regular contact with remote workers — this will help to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness for those who are unable to return to work immediately. It’s a good way to ensure that workers are well and that they understand information and instructions presented to them. Organisations must also remember that remote workers still need to be cared for and that they are also apart of the return to work after COVID-19.
Set boundaries for working hours — allow workers to disengage from work when they are required to or introduce reduced working hours to begin with. The emotional stress for some of those returning to work maybe high. Showing compassion and flexibility will allow workers to feel more secure and safe when returning to work. This will also allow workers to continue a healthier work-life balance when they return home after work.
Encourage workers to discuss wellbeing/mental ill-health concerns — this can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent them from worsening. It can help to create an open and compassionate culture which could lead to a more socialised reintegration into the workplace. It also allows managers the opportunity to learn about potential preventative measures that could be adopted for the future.
Adopt an approach to provide positive, morale-boosting messages and positive information to workers — provide and promote positive information around the organisation to help workers to feel more stable during the return to work process. This can create more positive mindsets and provide rationality, logical thinking and reassurance. Reassure workers that it is ok to be fearful, apprehensive and frustrated during the return to work process. These are normal responses.
Motivate workers through praise — ensure that workers are rewarded for their work. A morale boost can help to raise wellbeing to a more positive state. A simple ‘well done’ or a smile can make a big difference.
Offer general wellbeing information — the messages for general health promotion are as relevant as they were before, but a bigger emphasis on disseminating health information and messages may be required. For example, highlight useful sources of information that focus on wellbeing and mental health. This could be in the form of advice online or mobile applications.
Please note: IOSH are currently releasing a series of Wellbeing information videos on various social media and communication platforms. The videos can be viewed on the IOSH YouTube channel. This video can be viewed here.
Encourage healthy sleeping — encourage workers to get plenty of quality sleep. This can help workers to keep healthy, be more productive and to be more resilient and open to workplace changes during the return to work process.
Stand regularly — it’s important for workers to take regular rest breaks and to stand up often to experience health benefits. Extra movements, stretching and physical exercise can enhance the health benefits. This can also encourage social interaction whilst socially distancing. For more general information on standing at work and the associated health effects, see here.
Partake in socially-distanced physical activity — encourage workers to perform some sort of physical activity or exercise as this can help with their mental and physical health and wellbeing. Exercise should be performed whilst abiding by social distancing measures.
Eat nutritious food — a healthier diet can help the body to fight off infection and raise overall health levels. This can help workers feel better emotionally and physically whilst returning to work.
Encourage workers to partake in controlled breathing exercises — deep and controlled breathing can help workers to relax when stressed. The process also switches brain activity to a different working section of the brain. This encourages more rational decision making.
Encourage good standards of hygiene — educate workers in the importance of good personal hygiene and maintaining good hygiene of working equipment, e.g. wiping keyboards with cleaning products. Ensure workers follow any new cleaning procedures and regimes.
Provide varied tasks, if possible — try to offer some variety of work to allow dynamic thinking and working during the return to work transition. This will help to provide fresh cognitive challenges and allow workers to feel stimulated, motivated, and productive.
Allow flexibility — to help workers manage their own health and that of others during their return to work. Allow them to take extra rest breaks if required and to address other concerns or issues alongside their working. Ensure that work deadlines and timescales are reasonable. This will help to reduce stress.
A final thought
Organisations must remember that we are in this pandemic together, we are all human and we must support one another through this unprecedented time and into the future.
We must continue to encourage workers to be compassionate to themselves and towards others as this can be rewarding, and offer support. This will also allow them to lead by example and inspire others to do the same.
Remind workers of your organisation’s core values, attitudes and behaviours. Embed them in messages and demonstrate them through managerial leadership.
Planning an individual's return to work after illness
It is likely that all businesses, irrespective of their activities, have some staff who will have contracted the virus at some time during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moving towards ‘the new normal’, occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have a valuable role to play in planning and supporting workers’ return to work. Specifically, they have the skills and experience that enable them to take the lead in implementing a 4-point plan, learn more about Planning an individual's return to work after illness