Now more than ever, employee wellbeing is key. With workers anxious about their health and safety, and burnout increasing in some organisations by up to 81 per cent, HR professionals are investigating all manner of ways to support the wellbeing of their people, from mental health first aiders and support lines through to providing manager training on mental health conditions.

However, have HR professionals given sufficient thought to the logistics of employees returning to the office and how getting the basics right is key to employee wellbeing? In fact, using the right technologies to support social distancing, prevent office overcrowding and ensure employees have somewhere safe and clean to sit each time they visit the office, can do much to reduce employee anxiety. Here, John Nicklin, MD of Juggl Desks, provides his insights on the simple and often underrated considerations that must be addressed to support the wellbeing of employees as they return to the office.

The state of employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing has never been more pressing for HR directors to manage. It’s shot up the business agenda with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealing that in a study of 668 senior HR leaders, 75 per cent have employee wellbeing on their agenda, up from 61 per cent last year. Plus, 67 per cent report that line managers are bought in to the importance of wellbeing, up from 58 per cent last year.

The CIPD also states that early research into the health impacts of lockdown has found that employees are suffering from fatigue, musculoskeletal conditions, poor work-life balance, reduced exercise and increased alcohol consumption. With regards to mental health, employees report reduced motivation, loss of purpose and motivation, anxiety and isolation.

Getting the physical return to the office right is key

With employees suffering with increased anxiety and stress, the physical return to the office cannot be taken lightly. HR leaders must ensure its plan to get people back into the office, whether this is full time or part time, includes a number of key considerations. These include finding out how comfortable people are with returning to the physical workplace. Conversations with individuals covering how they feel about mixing with colleagues and travelling to and from the workplace must take priority as this will inform the ‘return to office’ strategy. If some colleagues are simply too anxious to return to the office, a permanent remote working option for some colleagues might have to be considered.

Once it’s been decided what the hybrid working policy looks like, people’s physical return must be carefully coordinated. When will their first day in the office be? Will leaders be available to make employees feel comfortable? What will the agenda be for the day? Including settling-in sessions and a couple of ‘socials’ such as coffee and cake breaks, might help to gently ease people back into the workplace.

It’s also important for HR leaders to collaborate with facilities managers to address COVID safe measures, socially distanced desks and office occupancy levels as failure to account for these could create stressful situations which totally undermine any carefully crafted HR plans. Let’s consider this in more detail.

The importance of desk booking tech to ensure a stress-free return

Employees need to feel safe and cared-for on their return and yet it’s all too easy to forget the basics of getting this right. If employees turn-up to the office on their first day back and its overcrowded with nowhere for them to sit, this can be incredibly detrimental to their mental wellbeing and HR’s ‘return to work’ efforts. After all, workers might simply refuse to return.

The right tools must be in place to safely manage the flow of workers to and from the office, where they’re seated, where they’re parking their cars and other facilities they may need.

There are a number of desk booking technologies on the marketplace to support the pre-booking of desks and facilities and to ensure office occupancy levels are closely monitored. Some are incredibly complex with a large price tag where as others focus on simplicity and usability. For the majority of organisations, more straight-forward solutions without all the ‘bells and whistles’ are ideal and also tend to be quick to set-up and administer.

For an employee who is suffering with mental health issues, knowing that a clean and socially-distanced desk is reserved for them on their arrival and that they will have somewhere to park their car can prove a lifeline. And for those employees with additional physical disabilities, being able to reserve a desk to accommodate their particular needs is key to them overcoming ‘return to work’ barriers.

Getting the basics right

HR leaders are being pushed and pulled in all directions right now as they manage the new world of hybrid working against a backdrop of employee wellbeing challenges. With so many considerations, it’s all too easy to forget the basics of ensuring a smooth return to the office, and this includes providing employees with the reassurance of knowing that they have a reserved desk. Failing to get the basics right will simply undo HR’s efforts in other areas, and set-back employee wellbeing.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.