Returning the Office Safely and Healthily in the Time of COVID-19

With an end of the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly more attainable with each day, companies are beginning to, if they have not already, approach the subject of reopening offices for a return to in-person operations. However, studies and surveys have shown that people are struggling with the thought for a variety of reasons. Some people, of course, have found the convenience in the flexibility of working from home. More logistical concerns arise as people wonder what to do for childcare or pet care, especially if their go-to methods are unavailable in the new normal. And with talk of the Delta variant, people are concerned about exposure, especially when returning to closer contact with people. Commuting becomes a concern for people who take public transportation, fearing they may be exposed to the virus.

Enduring an ever-changing and uncertain pandemic is unsettling and even traumatic. People are coming to terms with what they have experienced and, especially as a group who needs to feel in control, are still coping with the negative after-effects. More and more people are reporting symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The isolating nature of quarantine has led people to experience depression and loneliness. The constant uncertainty and fear also causes some people to suffer from emotional exhaustion. The return to work likely exacerbates these mental health concerns. As a result, employers are finding themselves called upon more and more to provide support for their employees’ mental health concerns. The return to the workplace is a key trial to make sure they are ready for the task.

For the initial transition back into the office, employers must focus on support and accommodation to assist employees. After a full year of remote working, it may feel as though people are starting the job new, and employers should make every effort to help reorient the employees into the office mindset. Companies must also be open to feedback from employees to see how their transitions are going and to help improve workplace operations. Similarly, management must focus on transparency and clear communication. Employees must be kept aware of the goings-on, but also need to know that they have all the information that they need to comfortably and successfully do their jobs. Especially as the virus continues to circulate, employers need to clearly communicate their COVID-19 protocols so employees know what is being done to protect them and the safety procedures if a potential exposure occurs. It is also important to make these standards clear and to follow them; backtracking or not adhering strictly to protocols can cause a lack of trust and an uncomfortable environment.

Companies routinely offer physical health benefits and resources, but this may also be the time to develop or strengthen offered mental health resources. With stress on the rise, employers are seeing the benefit to investing in mental health and wellness programs. While companies will likely be satisfied in the positive ways that these offerings impact overall operational performance, employees will be happy to find that management is looking out for their mental well-being. People suffering from certain mental illnesses are often more susceptible to other illnesses, so providing care early on or when needed can prevent something worse in the future.

Workplaces are becoming creative when it comes to ways to provide their employees with mental health support. Working directly with the employees to get a better understanding of what they need to be successful in their job is incredibly important. Sometimes, providing an employee with mental health support can be as simple as instilling flexible working policies or allowing for certain mental health days, and even going as far as providing childcare services. Clear and transparent communication is also incredibly beneficial, allowing employees to know what is expected of them, but it is also important for management to review individual workloads to make sure that they are manageable. Companies have also begun to offer stress trainings and mental health services so employees feel comfortable knowing they have easy access to these resources should they need them. However, benefits information can be overwhelming, so it is important for employees to know that these are available.

If you are interested in learning on how OccuMed of New England can help provide your employees with mental health support and resources, contact us today by email or by phone at 877-399-1698!