In recent weeks, we’re seeing an increase in people returning to the office. Some businesses are opting for a hybrid working model, where employees can work part remote and part in office. Others are focusing more on returning to pre-pandemic working patterns.
There has been a lot of uncertainty over the past 18 months. The continuing evolution of government guidance has meant that organisations have had to adapt and flex their processes and plans.
As a consequence of this, employee anxiety about returning to the workplace has risen. Will they suddenly be expected to go back into the office after nearly 18 months of working from home? Will they be expected to split their time between the office and home? If so, what days and what hours? How will this work?
Employee Anxiety & the Return to the Workplace
The changing environment is having consequences for employees. A recent Westfield Health study found that over 50% of employees are anxious about returning to the workplace. We’re taking a closer look at the anxiety that employees may feel about returning to the workplace.
Why Might Employees Feel Anxious?
The sudden changes in the working situation can lead to anxiety and stress. Even the anticipation of these changes can increase stress levels.
Dave Capper, CEO of Westfield Health, said: “This latest last-minute change to reopening will yet again take its toll on the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of employees. While controlling the virus is a priority, we can’t keep neglecting the bigger mental health impact that is so crucial to the recovery of UK businesses”.
There are many other reasons as to why employees are anxious about returning to the workplace. Many still feel unsafe and worry about catching Covid-19. After shielding and staying at home to protect yourself and others, suddenly working in proximity with others and going back to what was normal before can seem scary.
Pandemic restrictions also impacted our social interactions. Some employees may be feeling socially anxious after not being around others for such a long time. Other employees may have been hired during the lockdown restrictions. For them, this may be their first real day in the office meeting their colleagues face to face. It can all be quite daunting!
How do Furloughed Employees Feel?
Employees who have been put on furlough during the pandemic are even more impacted by the changes. According to research, they feel ‘forgotten’ about by their employers – understandable given that organisations have to change their plans after last minute changes by the government. The changes undoubtedly lead to a breakdown or delay in communication of plans to staff.
In many cases, employees are not happy with their employer’s proposed plans that are thrust upon them. Furloughed workers are more likely to be offered reduced working hours when they return. This could be a key factor in their anxiety of the situation. Not knowing when things will change and not having a clear plan about their working situation.
What can Employers do to Help Reduce Employee Anxiety?
The impact of sudden changes to communication of plans is one of the key factors leading to employee anxiety. Lack of communication as well as being overwhelmed with ever changing communication can cause stress.
Employers should remain consistent and clear with their communication plans. Employers should connect with their staff – talk to them, find out how they are feeling and encourage two-way conversations. Likewise, they should encourage peer to peer communication. Employees might find reassurance or might be able to bring any shared concerns to employers.
Ensure that processes are in place to ensure the safety of all staff. Ensure that these measures and processes are clearly communicated across the workplace. This can help reassure employees that they are in a Covid secure working environment.
Research from Westfield Health found that employees highlighted two measures to help ease their anxiety:
15% of participants polled noted employee mental health assistance
11% of participants polled noted policies that support wellbeing
There are many measures that employers can take to support the mental wellbeing of employees as they return. It is important for employers to clearly communicate:
Available mental wellbeing support
Any resources that have been implemented
How to access these resources
Hybrid Working Model
The longer the pandemic has gone on, the more settled we have become with our new routines and changes. We have got used to not having to commute and working in the comfort of our own homes. We have set up our own workspaces and got our own daily routines sorted – we go out for walks, we exercise, we take breaks during the day and prepare our meals. Many of us feel more productive working at home too!
A Hybrid approach or changeable start/end times may help employees to feel more motivated and engaged.
“Research has shown that getting teams to work to the best of their ability is dictated by how, where, and when they work, and that different companies in different sectors are feeling their way through what might work for their teams, whilst keeping one eye on changing government guidelines,” Dave Capper added. “It has been – and continues to be – a minefield for companies to react and adapt.
This past year has, understandably, been a very confusing and anxious year. By acknowledging the potential sources of anxiety, employers can help support their employees through these transitions.
A deeper understanding of your team can help you pinpoint any potential sources of anxiety. It can also help you determine how to best address the concerns. The hug platform can provide you with insightful data on the overall wellbeing of your employees. If you’d like to find out how, please contact us today to book your free demonstration