Returning to work: How do I manage my employees’ health anxiety?
Many employers will now be starting to think about re-opening and getting their employees back into the workplace. For many businesses, this will not be until Step 3 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, but it is necessary to start planning ahead now.
So what small steps can you take now to ensure your employees will be as ready as you are to return to the work?
Recognise that everyone is different
Certain employees may feel stressed or anxious about their health and the on-set of Covid-19 when returning to work, it’s important to recognise each individual might react to returning to work differently.
While some employees might feel slightly stressed (or maybe not at all), others might be experiencing more severe levels of stress and anxiety. While stress and anxiety is experienced by everyone as part of everyday life, in some situations, ongoing stress about coronavirus might result in a diagnosed mental health condition, including anxiety or depression, or the stress about returning may itself be a symptom of a pre-existing diagnosed mental health condition .
In some cases, mental health conditions are a classed as a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act, so it’s important to remain vigilant in your management of employees as they return to work. As an employer, you also have a health and safety duty to protect the mental well-being of your employees as part of protecting their health, safety and welfare.
Now is a good time for to start producing your own roadmap on what the return to work will look like for your business and employees, focusing on how and when you plan to get staff back into the workplace.
This will give staff time to prepare themselves, so the earlier you communicate your roadmap, the better. It’s also worth communicating that the plan could be subject to changes announced by the government. Communicating to employees again as soon as possible after any changes are made to your own roadmap based on government updates will increase the opportunities for your employees to prepare themselves for their return to the workplace and communicate any of their own concerns.
Tell staff about health and safety measures
As part of your roadmap to return to work, make sure you let your staff know about the safety measures you’ve taken (i.e. placing hand sanitiser around the building and socially distanced working practices), and share the risk assessments you have conducted to assure staff that your workplace is a safe place to return to.
You should also be aware of sector-specific guidance too, which you can find here.
Consider individual arrangements
While collective communication might be the quickest and most practical means of talking to your staff about returning to the workplace, it’s important to treat everyone’s circumstances as unique, meaning you might need to discuss arrangements on a more individual, in-depth basis with certain staff.
Some employees might have additional health concerns if they travel to work via public transport, for example Having individual discussions with employees will help you find ways of accommodating these concerns and doing what you can to help support individuals., such as enabling them to travel outside of peak hours to avoid busy periods. You could also then set review dates to monitor the necessity of adaptions like this going forwards.
You might discover that an employee suffers from severe anxiety, which may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act. You’ll need to take particular care in these cases, and there may be a need for you to make adjustments to either support the employee’s return to work or to allow them to continue working from home, or potentially places them on leave if they cannot work from home. In this instance, advice from a a GP or occupational health specialist will help you understand how an employee’s anxiety affects their work and specifically, impacts their return to work. In turn, this will allow you to assess what adjustments, if any, need to be made.
When you are back on-site and at work, stay responsive to any local Covid-19 outbreaks and be quick to communicate with your employees about what this means for them.
Also, keep the general channels of communication open so that employees feel they can speak to you if and when they need to. One way of doing this is to implement or remind your employees of the stress and well-being policy that you have in place. This will hopefully encourage your employees to speak to you about any continuing health concerns they have. Ultimately, an employee that feels safe at work is more likely to thrive and perform well.
Author: Freya Dearman, Trainee Employment Law Advisor at Howarths
For more information or support on the topics covered in this article, please contact a member of the Employment Law Team on 01274 864 999.