Written by Emily Gent | 12th May 2021

12th May 2021

If employers thought the government roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions signalled a return to the office, they may have to think again if the results of a new survey are anything to go by.

A significant proportion of UK employees appear to be reluctant to go back to the workplace, with only one in three saying they wanted to go back at least part time, according to research conducted by HR software company Personio. One in four said they would even resign from their job if they were forced to return.

That may not apply to all employees – and some can’t wait to get back to the workplace – but it’s fair to say that putting pressure on your staff to return could cause problems and some resentment. There are many genuine reasons why staff may feel nervous about returning to the workplace and it’s important that employers take extra steps to support their employees.

Here’s how you can look after your teams:

Have one-to-one discussions

Before you make any quick decisions about bringing your teams back, the first step is to understand how your staff members are feeling about returning to the workplace and consider how you can support them.

Make time for a one-to-one conversation with each of your staff and use this to identify any signs of stress or mental ill health which may need further support. If they are happy to talk about it, ask them about factors that could be affecting their willingness to go back to the office – this might be childcare or caring responsibilities.

Once you understand their reasoning, you’ll be able to work with them to address their concerns and review whether any adjustments may be required.

Ensure workplace health and safety measures are in place

One of the issues employees may have is their safety in the workplace. You still have a responsibility to keep your teams safe, even as we return to normal and social distancing measures are relaxed.

Covid workplace risk assessments should be regularly reviewed and updated as needed and employees must be familiar with these.

Also remember it’s possible that not all of your staff will be fully vaccinated. All staff, especially those unvaccinated, will need to be reassured of the physical measures you are taking to support their health, safety and wellbeing. This could be enough onsite handwashing facilities, PPE where appropriate or socially distanced desks and meeting rooms.

Make sure they are clear about the rules and procedures they should follow both in the workplace and at home. This could be communicated in a health, safety and wellbeing policy, that is regularly updated.

Remain flexible

Throughout this uncertain time, and even going forward many employees will have circumstances to deal with that makes it difficult to adhere to strict working hours.

For example, schoolchildren could still be sent home if thought to have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus, while the many elderly and vulnerable people who are still being told to isolate could be needing care.

Allowing employees to maintain a flexible work schedule in the longer term, where possible, can be a big boost to their productivity and wellbeing.

Hybrid working, a mixture of employees working in the office and at home, can bring huge benefits and it may be the best option for employees against the idea of being in the workplace full time. A recent survey of the UK’s biggest 50 employers found that 47 of them intended to adopt this model.

If you choose to go down this route, you should have clear contracts of employment in place with employees detailing the working arrangements that will apply, including working hours and how often you expect staff to be in the workplace  Talk to employees well in advance of making any changes to their working arrangements so employees have a chance to feed back their views. Make it clear you are there to listen to any concerns – and make adjustments if necessary.

For more tips on managing a hybrid workforce download our guide or consider our HR Toolkit. This toolkit offers vital information for employers whose people will be working on a hybrid model temporarily or permanently and includes 1 hour of support with a consultant.

Compromise

For all its benefits, opening up flexible and hybrid working does come with its challenges. You could face a flood of flexible working requests – maybe multiple from people in one team.

If this is the case you should treat each request individually – but even so, you may not be able to grant flexible working to everyone. It’s therefore important to be aware of the dangers of burnout, stress and anxiety of employees who may not be working flexibly.

Try to find a compromise that can help keep good working relationships and support employee work/life balance. A different arrangement could be finding a way of sharing whatever flexibility may be available. This could involve agreeing some sort of rotation whereby the employees take it in turns to work to their chosen pattern.

Keep a focus on mental health

During lockdown, many businesses have ramped up their efforts to protect and promote positive mental health but this mustn’t be forgotten once back in the more ‘normal’, working environment.

For many people, the regular video calls, quizzes and end of week virtual drinks will have been vital for morale and wellbeing. You should try to keep up with this when returning to work, rather than simply assuming that everyone will now have their own activities planned with family and friends.

Perhaps look to arrange some outdoor team meet-ups or a work picnic, in line with government guidance, to get colleagues back together in a more informal way. Offering a safe space for employees to chat is fundamental in helping address mental health, which may include anxieties around returning to the workplace.

Some employees who have really struggled will benefit from professional support and advice. Employee assistance programs are one way to make the transition of returning to work smoother. Make sure your team members know the services and resources available to them – even consider appointing wellbeing managers and/or encouraging employees to train as Mental Health First Aiders.

In the end, even employees who are looking forward to being in the workplace again may have some anxieties about going back. Others may love working from home and simply not want to go back to working the way they did pre-pandemic.

Whatever your plan for the return to work, whether it’s a mixture of home and office working, it is essential to show empathy and communicate with your teams. By being patient, honest, and upfront with your employees about any concerns they have and working to ease any anxiety around returning, you can help employees make a much easier transition back into office life.

If you have any questions, or for more information please contact info@realityhr.co.uk to learn how we can support you.