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Our guide to easing staff back into the workplace

Over a year down the line, government restrictions are finally beginning to ease, the vaccination programme is picking up pace and many organisations that made the switch to remote working are welcoming staff back into the workplace.

The CIPD recommends three key tests1 before bringing people back to the workplace: is it essential; is it sufficiently safe; and is it mutually agreed? Many factors must be considered, including the size and nature of the workplace, the number of vulnerable staff or those who live with vulnerable people, caring responsibilities, public transport dependency, as well as local and wider outbreaks. 

As well as the logistics, it’s also vital to bear in mind that while some staff may be craving the routine and camaraderie of office life, others will be feeling anxious. Employers must  prioritise employee health, safety and wellbeing to deliver a smooth transition for those returning.

1. Update your COVID-secure risk assessment

Before opening their doors again, companies must consider detailed risk management approaches to safeguard employees’ health and minimise the risk of infection, basing plans on up-to-date government and public health guidance2. The Health and Safety Executive will be conducting spot checks and has also published advice3.

If you haven’t already done so, update your COVID-secure risk assessment and continue to consult with employees or your health and safety representative regularly to ensure that measures are in action and employee understanding and cooperation are in place. Refresher training will also give staff the confidence to carry out their daily tasks effectively, whilst knowing that their safety is taken seriously.

2. Communicate effectively with your employees

Once it’s updated, share your risk assessment and COVID policies with employees – ideally before they return, as this not offers the chance to raise any concerns, but also helps them understand how their working environment may be different. Keeping a clear flow of communication on the lead up to offices reopening will make employees feel more valued and likely to engage with any new safety measures. One-to-one return to work interviews are also a beneficial way of welcoming staff back, answering any questions and checking they feel ready and prepared. An open door policy is essential in helping your team feel safe, confident and capable in their roles.

3. Protect employees’ mental health

Stress-related absence soared by 64%4 in 2020, as COVID-19 exacerbated the UK’s mental health crisis. If there’s one thing the last 12 months have taught us, it’s that health is wealth and protecting a workforce’s mental state must sit at the top of every organisation’s agenda.

For some, a return to the office will feel daunting and will increase their levels of anxiety. There’s no better time to develop a mental health strategy and start making time for conversations with your team about their mental health. Investment in mental health is more crucial than ever and will have more benefit if it comes from the top down to drive a positive change. 

5. Manage expectations

Be clear in communicating your expectations for bringing employees back to work – planning, organisation and thorough preparation is going to be vital to your success. Ensure senior management and department leaders recognise that different individuals may have different requirements. 

As well as focusing on business recovery and meeting legal obligations, always remember that your employees are at the core of your organisation. They’re your greatest asset and will help create the future for your business. 

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