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As governments around the world are lifting lockdown restrictions, employers are outlining how to bring back their employees to work safely, while considering logistical aspects such as schedules, sanitizing protocols, visitor policies, seating configuration and much more.

Although these measures are certainly important, companies need to consider not just the physical well-being of their employees. Anxiety – a natural reaction to uncertainty and unusual circumstances – is omnipresent right now. Many people are worried that their employers will ask them to come back to work before it’s safe. At the same time, they’re worried about the future of the company and the possibility of losing their jobs.

Gaining the trust of your employees will take much more than assuring them that the facilities are clean. If you shy away from addressing concerns that might contribute to their anxiety, and you don’t support them in managing their mental health, simply bringing them back to work will not restore pre-COVID productivity levels. The way companies handle this transition will determine their ability to maintain morale as well as their reputation.

Get the timing right

Understandably, you will have many employees who are worried about the risks of returning to work and rushing them will undermine the trust and goodwill you gained by facilitating remote work.

You’ll first need to consider the situation at the local level. The number of cases reported in your city will have a strong influence on how safe your employees feel about coming back to work. Even if the number of cases is on the decline, if you’re a larger company, asking them to come back to the office, especially if working from home is still a logistically viable option, might be perceived as prioritizing profit over their health.

Before you put things in motion, take some time to talk to your managers and see which teams could continue to work from home. You’ll also want to ask feedback from your employees in the form of anonymous surveys and encourage them to share their concerns so you can come up with strategies to address them.

Maintain transparency in communication

Getting accurate updates will go a long way in making your employees feel safe and even look forward to coming back to work. Use the information you’ve gathered from your managers and surveys to maintain an open dialogue and be ready to answer their questions regarding safety measures.

Most likely, your employees will want to know how often work areas will be cleaned and sanitized, what protective equipment will be provided and how employees will be screened to avoid contagion. You should also consider approaching topics like flexible sick leave policies and staggered shifts.

Invest in Employee Wellness

Employers have a duty to protect the health safety and welfare of their employees, and this includes mental health. While some of your employees may have practical concerns such as commuting or taking care of their children while schools are closed, others will experience high levels of anxiety since for months “staying safe” was synonymous with “staying home”.

It’s true that social interaction is beneficial to mental health, but in these circumstances, they may be worried that social contact with coworkers or customers will put them and their families at risk. Give your employees the opportunity to voice these concerns and provide them with access to mental health support services such as online therapy.

Train your managers and team leaders to identify the warning signs of emotional distress and how they can approach the subject and help staff members access the mental health resources made available in your company.  

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