Returning to work: Remember to Check-In With Your Staff and Their Mental Health

As things start to open up again, employees are beginning to return to work after a rollercoaster of a year. If implemented correctly, a smooth transition back to work can be accomplished.

Employers need to understand that the staff you worked with a year ago may have had a tough time, and checking in with them will let them know that you care and help the team function productively and efficiently once more.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people differently, and some staff may need additional mental health support once they’ve returned to the workplace.

There are various methods employers and HR professionals can use to help their team and provide relief for any mental health issues they might be going through.


The Successful Return of Furloughed Employees

Furloughed staff will be most concerned about health and safety issues, child care concerns, job retention, and security. A return to work may make people feel anxious about redundancy decisions and more basic practical matters.

Where possible, line managers or HR staff should try to address these concerns early on through open communication, updating staff on the news involving the company or organisation as soon as they can. Staff members may still be concerned but forewarned is forearmed. No information is worse than bad news.

Consider creating FAQ sheets to create clarity about the situation and help employees express their concerns. A chat facility may help people get back in touch with each other, and often these facilities are a great place for staff to answer each other’s questions in a less formal setting.


Managing Wellbeing For All Staff

When any employee, furloughed staff member or working from home employee, goes back into the workplace, it can be an anxious time. The transition should be personalised to the individual. As well as feelings, you should factor in the length of time someone has been furloughed or has worked from home and any changes in personal circumstances.

Furthermore, as a result of the pandemic, their position and your expectations at work could shift. For example, when a furloughed line manager returns, it’s necessary to consider what revised or new skills they’ll need, especially in the light of possible team member mental health issues. With that thought in mind, any training that enables returners to develop skills to be effective in these situations is beneficial.

Many people would have missed socialising with their coworkers. Creating an informal buddy system with colleagues who have remained at work or setting up a forum for returners to share information and mutual support can help reconnect people.


Accept Transition Time Off Is Inevitable

Be reasonable and make some adjustments to the work schedule where needed. Your staff will still be adjusting to returning to work and may have children to think about, working away from home to organise and transport issues to work out. If a staff member needs to take time off to look after someone else, try to accommodate them in a way that will work for everyone.

When discussing any changes that occur within the workplace in conjunction with the furlough schemes or working from home practises, remember to deal with issues sensitively. Some staff members may be feeling anxious or stressed about the current work situation, so you must communicate things to them calmly and clearly.

It may take a while for those returning after long periods of working from home to re-adjust to the workplace and get back into things. Accept that this transition period will take time, and make sure you are there if their minds need refreshing.


Be Supportive

Take practical steps to create a healthy work environment where your employees feel comfortable approaching you. Make sure you are seen as available and encouraging. Your management style will need to adjust to each individual and their different needs and preferences.

For the employees returning to work after working from home for an extended period, leaving home and entering an environment with significantly more people can cause anxiety.

Ensure you accommodate them and respect any requirements they may have regarding health and safety in the workplace. – consider a transition period, build up office days slowly and allow the staff member to dictate the pace if you can.

If working from home isn\’t an option anymore, it’s a good idea to relay that to staff members as soon as possible, so they have time to attune to the prospect.

In the meantime, while you’re working out the return to work schedule, ask if they’d prefer video meetings, emails, or talking over the phone.

These small details will help you form a comfortable and open working environment where employees can thrive.


Check-in Regularly

Stay in regular contact with your team and check how they’re coping and if they need any support. Focus your attention on the following:

  • How they’re feeling.
  • How work is going for them and if they need any assistance.
  • Ask if there are any health and safety concerns with regards to returning to work or leaving home.
  • If they have all that they need to work comfortably from home or in the workplace

Set realistic targets and make sure priorities are clear when you check in with them.

Communicating clearly will help team members feel motivated and supported throughout the transition back to ‘normal.’


Things To Look Out For

Everyone shows signs of mental health problems differently, and it’s essential to keep an eye out for possible signs and not make assumptions based on what you see or hear from others. Some possible symptoms of workplace anxiety could include;

  • Being tired, anxious, or withdrawn around others.
  • Multiple sick days or showing up late to work more than usual.
  • Struggling to focus on work, lower standards or decreased productivity.
  • General lack of interest.


It is harder for managers to spot these signs when everyone is working from home, so you must create an environment where your staff feel safe and open about what they are going through or how they feel. The sooner you identify that someone is struggling, the sooner you can provide them with the help and support they need.


Knowing What To Say, Learning When to Listen

When approaching a member of staff about a possible mental health issue, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Arrange the conversation as soon as you start to suspect any problem.
  • Make sure the conversation is private and stress that things will stay confidential.
  • Be open to where and when the chat will take place, accommodate them.
  • Always be patient, calm and supportive as it may be difficult for them to take the first step and open up to you.
  • Thank them for opening up and allow them to take as much time as they need before returning to work.

During the conversation, you should pay close attention to what staff members have to say and try to find the source of the issue gently and respectfully. Consider how you can assist in making the transition back to work as smooth as possible.

Returning to work will be a new learning curve for everyone, so it is essential to keep in mind that we all cope with change differently, and some of us may need more time and support than others.

Significantly and at the same time don’t forget to look after yourself!

For more information or advice and online courses, visit Josie Hastings Associates. We are always available to help.

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