As furlough comes to an end and nearly all restrictions are removed, more people are returning to the workplace, but how do you ensure they are fit for work? No one would expect to be able to get up from a couch and run a marathon and similarly with many months not working, can we expect people to step smoothly back into the workplace? You may need to consider a staged return rather than expect people to be at their pre-covid productivity level.
We recognise that lots of things have changed over the last year and no doubt you want to feel as prepared as possible for restrictions finally easing. Lots of teams have not worked much or at all since the pandemic started. Not everyone will be excited or ready to return to work fully. This could create some unique problems and some issues could become more common such as:
- Increased absences
- Reduced productivity and self confidence
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty retaining information
- Inability to maintain a functioning relationship with co-workers
- Friction between those who worked and those that didn’t
- Managing vaccinated and non-vaccinated personnel
- Frustration about changes made in their absence
- Lack of communication between those that work from home and those in the office
- Staff shortages putting extra pressure on existing employees
- Low motivation or work ethic
With careful planning, you avoid these issues and ensure people are fit for work.
Duty of Care
Whilst returning to work is celebrated by some people, many others are anxious about rising infection levels. There is still much to be learnt about how to move forward in this new era. However, there is a requirement for employers to plan and implement any return to the workplace in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing. Around 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms. Do you need to gain staff support to be vaccinated and/or get regular rapid testing?
As Runa Udin, Mind, put it ” The anxiety around stepping out of lockdown is very real for many and so understandably scary. On top of that, humanity as we know it has to re-learn a new way to live again and if you are anything like me who has spent the year becoming progressively feral by the day then you might find that stepping out means having to de-feralise! The de-feralisation process is a mammoth task that includes re-learning how to use iron/brush/makeup/proper shoes/clothes that are professional and fully dressing as opposed to dressing according to camera coverage/shaving/and insert other forms of grooming or anything you can think of because my memory ends here – yep another effect of lockdown feralisation- rubbish memory.
So the point I am trying to make albeit very badly is that its ok to not feel as excited, or feel anxious, just as much as it is ok to feel super excited and happy, whatever you are feeling the most important thing is to take care of yourself, be kind and compassionate to yourself and wrap yourself in warm empathy. Really take control of your mental health by completing a free to download Mind Wellness Action Plan template and guidance.”
The recommendation is that for those who have not worked for a significant period, you consider running a ‘welcome back’ session. You could think of it like a return-to-work induction. Here are some ideas you could include as a starting point:
- Check in how everyone is doing. Mental health has been a major issue during the pandemic. How are people feeling right now? How confident do they feel?
- Allow people to talk about how the last year has been, what they are excited about and any concerns they have about returning to work.
- Go through changes to the job and workplace; even stories and in-jokes that have developed in their absence.
- Ensure they understand the Covid measures in place and reassure them of the risk assessments and checks.
- Discuss the systems they will be using and go through them as a reminder.
- Ensure they are aware of what benefits and support are available for them from yourself and the Company.
Bringing the Team Together
You may have some people in the team who have worked very little and some who have worked a lot. This year has been hard for both groups in different ways and it is important to move forward as one team and try to reduce any animosity or broken relationships.
We know that teams go through stages of development from forming, storming, norming and performing. However strong your team was before the pandemic; it is dangerous to assume that there won’t be any re-forming and storming as they come back together. This requires careful handling.
There are tools to help this:
- Talk through any changes that have been made in their absence and answer any concerns they may have.
- Revisit the vision, values, and expectations, especially as some of these may be different post-pandemic.
- Complete a ‘Stop Start Continue’ with the team, so they can identify what needs to stop happening, what needs to start to happen in the new normal, and what will continue. This can help bring the team together with shared goals that they have been involved in.
- Hold team briefings or de-briefings regularly and share great behaviours/performance. Give recognition to those who have shown good adaptation.
- Consider bringing people together in a more social environment. Does your workplace have any national campaign days or family gatherings planned for the coming months to look forward to?
The buzz word for this year seems to be ‘agile working’ as people are given the option to work from home or in the office. As with any terminology, there can be misunderstanding of what this actually means. I recommend having frank and open conversations so that everyone understands the expectations and accountabilities for this type of working and there is consistency throughout.
Fit for Work Check List
Finally, here is a check list of some questions to help you plan a more effective return.
- How will you ensure clear communication for everyone in this period?
- What team re-building measures do you have planned?
- Are you clear on what has changed within your workplace over the last year and how to communicate this?
- Are people comfortable with their role and understand what is expected of them in the ‘new normal’?
- Do they understand how you have made your workplace COVID secure?
- What is your policy on vaccination?
- Do they know the process if they have symptoms of COVID?
- Have you checked the latest guidance on the government website?
- What is your procedure for when people get ‘pinged’?
- What do staff have to do if a colleague or guest is not complying with safety measures?
- Do they know who to go to if they are not sure of something?
- What training do you need to offer if it has been a while since they used some of your systems or where things have changed?
- Can they work on a personal development plan with their manager?
- How can you have a laugh? You may like to watch this.
If you would like to know more about ensuring your team is fit for work, please contact me.
Also published on Medium.