"These are unprecedented times," says WSPS Account Manager Charmaine Mitchell. "Some folks have been living in isolation, others have been living and working intergenerationally. Some will appreciate coming back to their workspaces and re-engaging with co-workers, while others will be anxious and opt to continue teleworking."
Integrating mental health considerations into plans to bring employees back into the workplace will ease their concerns and enable them to make the transition quickly and smoothly.
What you need to know
As you plan the return to the workplace, take these considerations into account:
- your employees' mental health may have changed since the pandemic began. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's (CAMH) ongoing survey of Canadians' pandemic health and substance use, one in five survey participants report moderate to severe anxiety, and a third report moderate to severe anxiety over the return to pre-pandemic routines.
- returning to the workplace could trigger a range of emotional responses. Some employees will be keen to end an extended period of isolation, others may be reluctant to leave the perceived safety and security of working from home, while still others may be conflicted - keen but anxious.
- returning employees may be anxious about perceived risks of contracting COVID-19 at work, and unvaccinated employees may be more anxious than their vaccinated colleagues.
- the need for flexibility remains. There's no going back to the way things were, only forward. We’ve all had to be flexible during the pandemic, and this will continue.
How to ensure a smooth transition
The following suggestions can help returning employees get up to speed with minimum stress and disruption:
- manage your own expectations. Don't seek perfection the first time out. What you're developing is a living, breathing process that can be continuously improved over time.
- involve employees in planning the return. Utilizing key individuals from various departments, create a committee to conduct return-to-the-workplace hazard assessments, identify solutions, and oversee implementation. Apply the hierarchy of controls to psychological safety hazards just as you would with potential physical safety hazards.
- familiarize committee members with Guarding Minds @ Work's 13 psychosocial factors that affect employees' psychological health and safety to ensure your plan takes them into account.
- implement a staged return. Start with the most essential employees and departments, and then layer on more employees and departments. With each layer, look for gaps and opportunities for improvement.
- communicate the plan to all employees. Explain how the return process will unfold, how it was developed, what measures are in place for employees' physical and psychological protection, and other information deemed essential by your return-to-work team.
- manage employees' expectations. The workplace they return to may be very different from the one they left, often for the better - new safety precautions, processes, layouts, communication tools, maybe even a new dress code. Before employees return, ensure they know what has or will change and why.
- check in with employees after their return (e.g. one-on-one conversations, shift meetings, surveys, suggestions boxes). If you make changes based on this feedback, inform employees.
- Mental Health: E-Course Package, a series of five e-courses also available in French. All courses are available as a package or individually:
- Workplace Mental Health: How Managers Should Respond (3.5 hour virtual or live classroom training)
- Leading for Psychological Safety During Challenging Times (1-day course) helping leaders at all levels provide psychologically safe working environments.
- Think Mental Health http://thinkmentalhealth.ca/, a joint effort of Ontario Health and Safety System partners to provide employers with easy-to-access resources
- 3 new consulting solutions:
- Workplace Mental Health: Administering and Interpreting PHS Assessments
- Workplace Mental Health Supplemental Needs Assessments
- Workplace Mental Health Gap Assessment CSA Z1003
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.