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Build the human into your employee's return to work

Most employers, despite ongoing uncertainty, are ready to kickstart their own version of  ‘new normal’. Whether that means your flexible staff returning to the office, everyone continuing to work from home or even making people redundant, there’s a new future to be carved. Cognitive Law’s HR Consultant Claire Carson advises SMEs on all people issues. Here she shares her expertise in handling this tricky next phase for your flexible staff.

Consider the human

You have to think about the person behind the job title. Consider your employee’s

  • Personal experience of the past few months 

  • Physical health: are they recovering from Covid or shielding?

  • Caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents 

  • Mental health which will be impacted by all the above

Huge amounts of uncertainty coupled with a lack of support is a recipe for poor mental health, exhaustion and apathy. Conversely, when people enjoy good mental health, they feel positive and resilient and they can contribute more freely and enjoy a more fulfilling life both in and out of work.

How to improve your employee’s mental wellbeing

One of the fundamental needs for human beings is to feel safe and although that means different things to different people, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow describes the need for physical and psychological safety as ’a predictable and non-threatening environment’. Using this definition, we can think about the current situation and understand that there are some things we can put into place to try and help people to feel safe and support their mental health.

Make life at work predictable

Communication is key. Keeping your people updated regularly through all the channels at your disposal will remove uncertainty for most.  Communication works best when it is two-way, so actively encouraging people to share their ideas and ask questions will help you to better understand their perspective. A mix of styles, both formal and informal, can work well to appeal to different preferences.  Consider sharing a video walk-around of the new workplace, or articles written by employees who have already returned to work to set minds at ease.

Create a non-threatening environment

When we think about the work environment, it can mean the office or home, but also the wider context of the journey to work, childcare arrangements and any other responsibilities people have to fit in around their workday. Some examples of feeling safe could mean having the right equipment, having job security, being able to pay the mortgage, or avoiding crowded spaces.

Psychological safety is equally important as physical safety and encouraging your people to speak up is a key factor in them feeling safe.  Human beings automatically assess their environment for risk and if we perceive a threat, we stay small and quiet to protect ourselves.

Innovation thrives in a culture of openness

What behaviours, actions and language can be seen and heard in your organisation? Do you create a culture of safety where people, instead of being concerned, can speak freely about their worries? When people witness others being treated with respect when they speak up, they are more likely to contribute their own views.  Conversely if behaviours such as dismissive emails, shouting, being hustled into a room or being laughed at are observed, people won’t speak up; they will feel scared and silenced.

When people feel safe, they create and innovate because there’s room for a different part of our brains to be activated.  All organisations can benefit from their people being able to think creatively but particularly now, at a time when businesses can’t afford to sit still.

Agree an action plan

Taking some time to engage with your flexible workers to discuss any concerns about returning to work will enable you to create a plan that is actionable and agreeable by all staff. Helping them to feel safe will allow them to bring the best of themselves to work.