During this year’s Mental Health Week (10-16 May 2021), we spoke to Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, who shared her thoughts about the potential for the forthcoming return to work, the so-called ‘re-entry’, to induce further anxieties amongst staff.
“Employers will only truly understand the magnitude of the post-pandemic mental health toll on their employees when they start recalling staff back to the workplace. Our conversations with employees who have needed COVID-related mental health support are extremely revealing, and employers would be wrong to assume that the lifting of lockdown restrictions is welcomed by all.
“As they return to the workplace, staff will respond well to clear communication of the required organisational changes. This is about ‘normalising different’, and it’s important as it acknowledges that things aren’t as they were, nor does it give the new measures any unnecessary significance. Employees are more likely to feel more confident in their return to work if their employer demonstrates a competent, straightforward and calm approach.
“It’s also important not to over-medicalise normal human reactions to a very difficult situation, feelings of stress and anxiety are not necessarily an indication of mental ill-health. Many of the anxieties felt by employees over the last year or so will pass naturally as they transition back to the workplace.
“However, this needs to be balanced alongside an acknowledgement that employees do not necessarily see situations through the same lens as each other, or indeed their employer, and so it is important that employers accept that employees’ anxieties are real for them. In our experience, employees are currently struggling with a mix of rational concerns about returning to the workplace, such as commuting on public transport, social distancing in the workplace, hygiene measures, etc, and on the other hand, anxieties about situations that they haven’t experienced for a long time such as in-person meetings or sharing office facilities even though they know that all the necessary precautions are in place
“With this in mind, employers need to investigate what mental health support they have in place, understand how it can be accessed and communicate that to staff. Employers should also be aware that it is not enough to simply offer mental health support without really understanding what that means in practice for their staff. Some support that’s available may be very light touch which would not be sufficient for employees with more severe conditions who would benefit from a clinical assessment and then appropriate treatment.
“This approach of ‘normalising different’, along with the safety net of comprehensive mental health support, will ensure that organisations can operate as routinely as possible and that all employees are supported with their mental health as they re-enter the workplace.”