It's time to get real.
A year ago today we were trying to predict what the work environment was going to look like after it was turned on its head when the pandemic began. Some of us were eager to get back to the routine and schedule of returning to work, others were feeling less enthusiastic. In the year prior to the pandemic, a CIPD health and wellbeing at work report included a survey which revealed that 37% of respondents felt that stress-related absences had increased in 2019. Last year similar studies show that an even higher 44% of working adults feel anxious about the prospect of going back to work.
We now have a much better idea of what to expect and what the modern workplace looks like, and it's time we all admit that hybrid working is here to stay. When lockdown first started in 2020 employees had no choice but to work from home, but somewhere down the line they began to realise they liked the new benefits of the remote work with 40% of workers saying their perceptions about working from home had substantially improved.
Cue #hybridworking trending on Twitter!
In 2021 many organisations were faced with the decision of returning to the office space completely or deciding to stay flexible with a hybrid model. The decision-making process was made no easier with government advice on social distancing and covid safety measures changing constantly. Many organisations decided to make the wellbeing of their workers their top priority after 85% of employees who were having to work from home last year said they wanted a hybrid model introduced in their workplace. In fact, last year fifty of the largest UK employers said that they had no plans to return all of their employees to their offices and were going to stay flexible after listening to the concerns of their team members. Organisations new that bringing everyone into a physical office space wouldn’t be the best way to support the mental health of their workers, with many concerns still circulating over safety measures and health in the office. Companies also found remote working more beneficial for the business and overall productivity, with 55% employees reporting that they were able to concentrate better while working from home.
Now we are looking more at a hybrid workforce becoming the new norm.
But what can you do to support your workers with a smooth transition as you navigate through the new hybrid work?
Provide mental health support
Ensuring your staff feel safe at their workplace has never been more important.
Your staff returning to work will be expecting a high level of support and it’s key that, as employers, you create a welcoming environment for your employees that supports their mental health in the office space but also for those working remotely.
The risks to people’s mental health from the pandemic are psychological as well as physical. Employees might be struggling with anxiety over the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, on top of social isolation because of social distancing restrictions. It’s important to be mindful of domestic situations that some employees might be in also, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative, and financial worries if their household income has been reduced. Some members of staff may have concerns about travelling and socially distancing on public transport too, making the daily commute back to the office stressful and upsetting.
To help your team to manage their wellbeing when workers return to the office you might want to spend time developing your wellbeing program. Over the years there have been different ways that companies have used to assess employee wellbeing to find out it is helping with employee engagement. One of the most efficient ones comes from PROWELL which has been used to assess employee wellbeing. It categorises employee wellbeing in the workplace into 3 main groups:
These are the biological and physical needs of your employees. This includes physical fitness.
These relate to the feeling of belongingness and love of your employees
These include feelings of security, esteem, cognitive needs, aesthetics, self-actualisation and transcendence.
Each of these 3 groups fall into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs to make it even easier to understand what should be considered when working on employee health and wellbeing. When you're starting to look at employee wellbeing within your organisation, it can be used as a checklist so you're adopting an an effective program that covers all bases.
Stay connected with your team
As an employer it’s important that you are available and approachable to your employees so they know they are encouraged to talk to you if they are having any issues.
Whether workers return to the office, or they are still working remotely, managers should keep regular contact with employees. Be mindful that your team might already be feeling anxious or stressed about something and make your communication clear and calm. Check in on how they are coping and tailor your communication to suit the needs of each member of the team. We like to hope that most employees would vocalise if they are struggling or are not looking forward to returning to work in a physical workspace, but you should still check in with each employee on a regular basis.
When making sure you are supporting the mental health of your team you should check with employees on:
- How they are feeling
- How they are managing with their workload – do they need any support?
- Do they have any concerns over safety in the workplace and what can you do to alleviate those concerns
- Do they have everything they need for their home office if they are working from home
Many organisations will fail at first hurdle when they don't gain trust from their employees. A foundation of trust is important for any cohesive remote team or when they have returned back to the office. In office work employees will look to be engaged with their work, but also want to feel just as productive with hybrid working arrangements so there must be a level of mutual trust between co workers as well as employers.
In remote work especially businesses should make additional effort when building trust amongst their teams as there are fewer opportunities to bring people together with in person interactions in the offices.
Employees at high trust organisations experience 106% more energy when working, 50% better productivity and 76% higher engagement. The best way for managers to build a sense of trust and safety as employees return to office or continue working from home is by being transparent and sharing information as much as they can.
Employees will feel valued in the business if they are updated with any changes to their workplace. Open communication will also reinforce a safe space for employees to reach out to their managers if they have any worries about going back to the office or hybrid working for example.
Managers should also build transparency around individual strengths and weaknesses on the team to encourage employees to share their skills.
Consider a welcome back gift to Employees
Gifting is a great way to show your employees that you value them.
Making the adjustment of going back to work is a big deal and employees respond to appreciation that comes when their hard work and dedication is recognised. You want to be known as a company that really cares about the wellbeing of your staff and sending them a welcome back to work gift gift will reinforce that positive relationship.
It will help you stand out against competitors.
When your employees receive their gifts, it will remind them why you’re a great company to work for and boost engagement amongst your team. Giving them a warm welcome back or sending a care packing to their home could result in them sharing and praising the company online and in person to potential employees.
Gifting can help improve overall company culture.
This small gesture can have big benefits for the whole company. Having an employer go the extra mile can really ease any concerns or worries your employees might have, helping them settle in and feel connected to the organisation. There are plenty of ways to say welcome back, but we've put together a list of wonderful gifts that will help those words make an impact.
The best thing you can do for your employees as we move through 2022 is continue to be mindful of their mental health and well being. There's been a significant change to the workplace as we learn to adopt to hybrid work, so be mindful, cautious and available to your teams and make sure they feel appreciated for their efforts no matter where they're based.