As the end of lockdown comes into view, employers are increasingly moving towards a flexible, hybrid style of working where employees will come into an office for two-three days a week and work from home for rest of the time. The move to hybrid working is largely being driven by employees that have become accustom to a better work / life balance and it also represents an acceptance by businesses that remote working to put it simply, works.
This mental health awareness week, Dr. Nick Zygouris, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Director of Mental Health, Maximus UK, shares his top tips on how businesses can support employee mental wellbeing during this period of transition and the normalisation of hybrid working:
As businesses are considering a transition back to the office, it is vital to get this right to protect the mental wellbeing of employees. Especially when we consider that poor mental health costs UK employers over £42bn each year.
At this stage, it is not possible to predict precisely the long-term impact of the pandemic on mental health, but one thing we do know, is that while people are extremely adaptable, any period of transition can prove to be stressful and cause anxiety.
There have been many transitions during the pandemic, when once we all had full, busy lives, we were moved to the extreme opposite and spent significant periods stuck indoors and isolated. This transition led to significant reduction in staff overall mental health and wellbeing and many employers were caught off-guard and needed to adapt quickly to provide the support their employees needed.
Recent research published in medical journal The Lancet investigated the impact of lockdown on healthy individuals compared to those who experience mental health symptoms. Interestingly, the research concluded that overall healthy individuals experienced a decline in mental health while people who already had mental health symptoms prior to lockdown reported their symptoms either stayed the same or in some cases actually improved. As we’re coming out of lockdown, one out of five people are estimated to experience COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome, a condition where people find it hard to stop worrying about catching COVID-19 and continue avoiding activities.
So, what does this mean for employers considering a move to hybrid working? The simple answer is there is no one size fits all approach. Every employee is different with different needs.
For example, people with social anxiety may experience extreme apprehension at the idea of returning to an office while other people may need face-to-ace social interaction to remain motivated in their role and engaged with the organisation.
This means different approaches need to be considered to ensure employees feel supported as our working lives transition again. Here are my top tips for businesses to consider:
- Keep your people connected – During hybrid working, it is important that employees feel connected to the business and their colleagues to ensure they feel supported. Keep employees up to date on the business, organise social gatherings (either face to face or remote), plan lunch and learns, or use an employee networking platform. A comprehensive internal communications plan will be critical to ensure the success of transitioning to hybrid working.
- Provide wellbeing resources – Equip your business with wellbeing tools and resources and remind employees what is available to them. Choose tools that have been developed by clinical, occupational, psychological and public health experts. At Maximus UK, we offer a range of tools to support workplace wellbeing, such as our Revitalised Wellbeing Programme that delivers a strategic, innovative and holistic approach to mental, physical and social wellbeing support.
- Create wellbeing champions – Create and support a network of wellbeing champions, a network of your employees who promote wellbeing activities and initiatives to your workforce. This peer-to-peer approach will ensure wellbeing becomes part of your corporate DNA. The role of a wellbeing champion is to be the ‘eyes, ears and voice’ of your corporate wellbeing strategy. Our Revitalised Wellbeing Programme offers training, support and equips your champions to be experts in all things wellbeing.
- Set ‘flexible boundaries’ – While some employees thrive from a flexible approach to work, others prefer set work times, locations and rules. Provide support to those employees who opt for a more structured way of working by agreeing set days that they are allocated to come into the office and regularly check in with them to review how they are adapting to this new way of working.
- Adapt your office space – Increasingly, I am seeing businesses adapt their office space to facilitate meetings and better collaboration, to provide a space where employees can meet up and exchange ideas. While this is a great initiative, it is also important to consider that choice here is key. Employees will also need access to quiet places to work in the office to get their work done away from the stresses of home life.
“A partial return to the office is a crucial time that requires clear communication strategies and comprehensive wellbeing support for employees. Ultimately, if handled well the move to hybrid working could energise your workforce and get them to embrace the new world of work.”