Following the advice of the Australian Government we will start to see the gradual return of employees into the workplace. For some this is a welcomed relief. To get back into a regular routine, have a morning coffee colleagues, see clients face-to-face and to be able to leave the house. Whilst for others this is another layer to add to their already over stretched limits of coping.
Preliminary research by Monash University into the impact of the pandemic is showing that over a third of participants reported psychological distress and the engagement of maladaptive coping strategies.
This pandemic has been referred to as a Collective Trauma. Trauma is characterized by a negative psychological response following an adverse event. We need to be mindful that although we as a society have experienced this together our individual reactions and responses are different.
With this in mind there are a few ways that organisations can support employees gentle transition back to work post COVID-isolation.
· Connect with your employees. Address everyone by preferred name. Employees who feel seen by their employers report higher job satisfaction. Find some other personal detail about them (example interests, names of children or pets). Investing a small amount of personal time can make a big difference.
· Re-connect. Prioritise time for teams to reconnect and ‘shoot the breeze’. Foster opportunities for employees to get to know each to build positive professional relationships. Start with a casual morning (non- work) chat over coffee or even try something fun like a morning trivia quiz.
· Express appreciation. Publicly acknowledge the work that each employee has done for the organization during the pandemic. Talk to the struggles of working remotely, the effect of isolation and the steep technology learning curve that some may have had to overcome. Turn this into something fun and award each employee with a personalised acknowledgement award.
· Value the Team. Highlight the collective efforts of the employees as a team and as an organization. Feeling connected to colleagues, their work and the organization is so important right now. By renaming the group as 'Team' instead of staff or employees will create a sense of belonging.
· Demonstrate vulnerability. Share your own struggles during the pandemic. Both personal and professional. Authentic leadership is demonstrating how fear and vulnerability requires self-awareness and leads to critical thinking, new ideas, adaptability and fosters change.
· Show them you care. Make visible the mental health and well-being support that is available. Start conversations, put up signs and hand out cards on how employees can access mental health services. These may include HR, EAP or community organisations. Creating a workplace culture that encourages and normalises help seeking behaviour is vital for post COVID recovery. Some organisations use the space at the end of their weekly online ‘Town Hall Meetings’ to remind employees of this support.
· Follow-Up.Provide time to check in with employees (online and face-to-face) to allow themto be transparent with their needs. Foster regular conversations about juggling home needs, expectations of work productivity and working hours. A great example of this is the Australian National University which has moved to support hours being spreadout over the week requesting that 25 out of 35 hours per week (pro-rata for part-time) managed well will be considered a full working week for pay purposes.
We are certainly not out of the woods yet. The fiscal outcomes of this pandemic will be felt for generations. The mental health repercussions including ongoing and future issues are yet to be evaluated thoroughly. Until then we can only wait and see what the future brings and support where we can.
Personally, I am optimistic that the future will be great and that if we stop and look around, connect with each other and learn from the past we can come out of this much better than before.
If you require futher information on how we can help with this please dont hesistate to reach out.