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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Few

How Employers can Consider the Mental Wellbeing of their Team when Returning to the Workplace

A little piece I wrote for PlusX Brighton.

Any change can throw our wellbeing into disarray, coming out of lockdown and entering into a new working routine is no different from any other life transition. Add to this the anxiety of a global pandemic and the impact of moving from isolation to the streets being full again, it is, of no surprise now more than ever we need to keep check of employee wellbeing.

Psychological models that focus on how we handle change suggest we move through a process of shock, denial, frustration, depression, experimentation (with the new status quo) and decision (of how to move forward) before we reach the point of integrating the change. Lockdown for employees will have thrust, personal equilibrium through such a process that is now to be, altered again as they head back to work.

With this in mind, it is, important as an employer to prepare for differing levels of readiness from employees. Employee readiness may also be, impacted by existing poor mental health. As a mental health professional, I have both conversed with patients who describe feeling as though their anxiety is now on a par with society's fear and in contrast, those who have felt acutely unwell.

Often when faced with transition and change, we look for stability and control, for those with existing mental health problems behavioural coping mechanisms such as; self-harm, disordered eating and compulsions are often exhibited in turbulent times due to this. At the lesser end of the spectrum, we may find employees engaging in such behaviour through excessive reassurance-seeking, working at unusual times to keep on top of work and a reluctance to delegate.

Consequently, an integral factor in enabling a smooth return to work relies on the employer providing a stable environment and assurance. Effective communication, transparency and realistic time frames will remove uncertainty and therefore; emotional stress from the return to work process. Work stress is one of the leading causes of sickness absence and presenteeism, for, this reason, it is, in the interest of both parties to enable a calm return to work.

The below outlines key areas of focus in safeguarding employee mental health and wellbeing as we return to work:

· Enabling; employee discretion so that the individual has a feeling of ownership over what is happening to them. As an employee, it is integral to have a choice and some degree of control over how things will be handled and communicated based on our own frame of reference.

· Creating a sense of connection between employer and employee is essential to allow the employee to feel they can approach return to work conversations. Communication should be purposeful and proactive, giving the employee regular intervals to touch-base in a way that is useful for them.

· Creating an empathetic work environment to enable an employee to feel understood and heard from their perspective is essential when returning to work post lockdown, how individuals process this transition will vary greatly. Acknowledgement of the emotional impact of an individual’s experience, without making assumptions creates an environment of empathy.

· As part of enforcing an open and enabling work environment conducive to wellbeing, the overall business culture should echo the mantra of an emotionally safe environment. The way process and policy are, created and enforced is essential to ensuring they are person-centred, flexible, and inclusive.

Times of adversity can lead to great connection or disconnection; within the workplace, we have an opportunity to make a profound difference to an individual's wellbeing and in turn reap the reward of having a productive team. Very often we think we listen, but rarely do we listen with empathy the type of, listening, that is one of the most potent forces for change.

All My Love.

Becky x

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