To keep workers safe, organisations must consider both their physical health and their mental wellbeing:
Communicate the organisational plan — be open, clear and honest with all workers. All workers have a right to know what the organisation is doing to help protect its workers and help them to return to work safely. Good leadership is key.
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 remember that remote workers also need to be cared for and considered in the return to work after Covid-19.
Use varied methods of communication — Ensure must-have group meetings and engagements follow government social distancing advice. Video and teleconference-based calling should be the preferred option as this can introduce a visual human interface and include those working remotely. Although telephone, email and social media engagement may still be used to reinforce communication.
Set boundaries on 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 may be 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 that provides positive, morale-boosting messages and positive information for workers — provide and promote positive information around the organisation to help workers 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 online advice or mobile apps.
Please note: IOSH has released a series of Wellbeing information videos on various social media and communication platforms. The videos can be viewed on the IOSH YouTube channel.
Encourage healthy sleeping — encourage workers to get plenty of quality sleep. This can help workers stay healthy, be more productive and more resilient, open to workplace changes during the return to work process.
Stand regularly — it’s important for workers’ health that they take regular rest breaks and stand up often. Extra movements, stretching and physical exercise bring health benefits. Social interaction, whilst socially distancing, can also be beneficial For more general information on standing at work and the associated health effects, see what the new research says.
Eat nutritious food — a healthier diet can help the body 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 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 taking care to keep work equipment clean eg wiping keyboards with cleaning products. Ensure workers follow any new cleaning procedures and regimes.
Provide varied tasks, if possible — try to offer some variety in work tasks 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 — 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 outside their work. 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, that we are all human and that we need to support one another through this unprecedented time and beyond.
We must continue to encourage workers to be kind to themselves and to others (which itself can be rewarding) and to offer support. This will also enable 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.