How to Protect Employee Mental Health When Reopening

Mental Health Awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. In a previous article, we covered how employers can promote mental health for their remote workers during COVID-19. Now we want to talk about how leaders can start preparing for the mental health challenges that will surely arise with reopening the workplace. In a recent Forbes article, leadership strategist, Ron Carucci, cites the PwC Study, “Reboot: Employees Want Safety and Wellbeing Prioritized” when he states that returning to the workplace will wear on employees’ mental health.

Of the employees surveyed, 70% said that something would either prevent them from returning to the workplace or makes them uncomfortable about returning to the work place. Responses included the fear of getting sick, the fear or unwillingness to use public transportation, increased responsibility as a parent or caregiver and the responsibility of caring for sick family members. In addition to the pre-existing stress and anxiety employees feel about returning to the workplace, actually being there will cause an enormous amount of additional stress due to all the changes that will have been made. For the past few months, everyone has been feeling the stress of being “lost in the unfamiliar,” but with staggered start times, new parking regulations, having temperature taken at the front door, wearing various forms of PPE in the office, re-arranged work spaces, etc., employees will soon be feeling lost in what should be “familiar.” All of this stress puts the mental health of your employees at risk, but there are steps you can take to help them!

Protecting Your Employees’ Mental Health

Listed below are the steps you can take to minimize any negative mental health impacts associated with reopening the office as outlined by Carucci:

  • Have a Clear Plan: There is an extraordinary amount of details that need to be sorted out before reopening. To minimize the stress on everyone, have all the logistics sorted out before hand and make sure the plan to reopen as well as the new office guidelines have been clearly communicated with all departments within the organization.
  • Keep Policies and Expectations Up-To-Date: As we have all noticed, COVID-19 regulations are constantly adapting, so your policies and employee expectations will have to adapt as well. Reopen with a communication plan to keep employees informed on changing regulations and how it affects them in the office. You want to minimize stress and anxiety and prevent employees from thinking you are unorganized or not up-to-date.
  • Encourage Healthy Conversations: Some employees may feel exited to be back at work, while others may be unconformable, and may even feel lost and without a purpose. These are all perfectly normal feelings and helping employees express and connect over these feelings will help create a united force where everyone can feel like they are rising to the challenge returning to work together.
  • Make Light of Missteps: With an entirely new routine and new set of rules, there is no doubt that there will be some employees who struggle. Someone will forget their mask, forget to sanitize their desk in the morning, etc. It is your job as a leader to keep the environment positive and remind employees that everyone is trying their best. Have extra masks and cleaning supplies available so that missteps do not get blown out of proportion and cause unrest.
  • Prepare for the Hard Questions: There are going to be many questions that arise that don’t have clear answers. Don’t let yourself become annoyed with these questions and avoid making up answers to resolve the issue. The goal is to remain compassionate and transparent about what you do and don’t know, and what you care doing to close that information gap.
  • Take Care of Yourself: Reopening the office will not just be stressful for employees. As a leader, you will be navigating a whole new set of challenges and experiencing stress and anxiety as well. It is important to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, so that you are properly equipped to effectively handle whatever comes your way.

For more information, check out this Forbes article!

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