Mental health and returning to the workplace: Let’s talk about it
You can encourage a safe transition to the workplace by talking openly about mental health.
posted June 01, 2020
For the first time in months, many Oregonians are headed back to the workplace.
Whether your business has recently reopened after closing for coronavirus, your employees have been onsite all along delivering essential work, or you won’t open for some time, it's likely this transition will impact the mental health of your employees.
You can encourage a safe transition to the workplace by addressing the disruption in our communities and the impact it has had on people's lives and routines. It's important to recognize the spectrum of responses employees will have to returning to the workplace, and talk openly about mental health.
“No matter where an employee is on the spectrum—eager to get back to the workplace or significantly concerned about the return—it’s crucial that they feel safe and understand the steps their employer has taken for their physical and mental well-being,” says Liz Hill, Total Worker Health adviser at SAIF. “Communication will be key to a smooth transition.”
Below are five ways to establish a culture of well-being as employees adjust to being back in the workplace.
1. Address anxiety and stress
Workers could be suffering from anxiety caused by a number of things, including the health of their family and loved ones, financial stress, the future of the organization, lack of childcare, or fear of catching the virus. As an employer or supervisor, it's important to communicate that stress and anxiety are normal.
The Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest encourages employers to “acknowledge that anxieties surrounding family needs, job security, finances, and disruptions to daily life may exacerbate stress and mental health challenges.” See their Total Worker Health Employer Guide: COVID-19 Edition for more information.
Encourage employees to take time for self-care. That may include unplugging from the constant stream of news and social media, or talking to a friend or counselor about what they're feeling.
You can also learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide and ways to prevent suicide in the workplace.
2. Be flexible if possible
It might take employees time to adjust to being back in the workplace, regardless of how they feel about it. Consider ways you can be flexible with employees through the transition.
National Safety Council suggests organizations “allow for flexible policies as schools restart, daycares reopen and schedules become reestablished.”
3. Provide information to help employees through the transition
Communicate plans at a high level as early and often as possible. Being transparent will help employees who are struggling with anxiety around the future of their jobs and the organization.
Make sure employees know what professional help is available to them, either through your existing Employee Assistance Program, their health benefits plan, or other free resources. You can find a free resource hub to help people address their mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic at PsychHub.
4. Encourage physical health
Good physical health has a powerful positive impact on our mental health. Encourage employees to take outdoor breaks, practice mindfulness, and ensure workspaces are ergonomic.
5. Tell employees they matter
Reassuring employees they play an important role in the goals and mission of the organization can go a long way in helping them adjust in the workplace.
“Taking care of physical safety, providing supportive resources, and being flexible so employees can meet family, personal, and work demands is a powerful way to demonstrate beyond words that your employees matter and are valued,” Hill says.
For more ways to keep workers and workplaces safe from the coronavirus, visit saif.com/coronavirussafety. Learn more about how you can create a culture of well-being in your workplace at saif.com/wellbeing.