Employee Wellbeing and the Return to Office.
If you know anything about houseplants, then you know that they all have very individual needs. Some need very little support. Succulents can pretty much be left alone to thrive (if like me you can be one to forget to water them). Stick your Spider Plant in a bright spot and forget to water it and it will flourish, as it retains water well.
However, try your hand at maintaining a Fiddleleaf Fig and you have a challenge on your hands. In the wild it absolutely thrives, indigenous to West Africa it is used to dense rainforests. However once domesticated it can be finicky. Too much sun, not enough sun, too wet, too dry, avoid cold drafts, rotate it frequently, give it fertiliser but not too much.
You can give the plant what you think it needs and wants and it may still refuse to cooperate. The same can be said to our approach to supporting employee’s health and well-being. We can give the employees what we think they need and want and even so, the leaves may still begin to fall off.
What we can do is aim to take a holistic approach to ensure that we try to create an environment that is supportive and enables people to thrive. And even now, as we consider our return to office protocols it’s more important to notice what people’s individual needs are relevant to the workplace and maintaining their psychological safety.
Many people are experiencing a vast array of feelings and emotions over the last year. Research from PubMed has seen spikes in anxiety (20%) and depression (23%). Our resilience is flailing in this somewhat new phase of the pandemic and we are seeing new anxieties emerge as restrictions lift and organisations consider their return to office (RTO) protocols.
Adapting Business to New Anxieties
According to a recent McKinsey report 1 in 3 people stated that the return to office shift negatively impacted their mental health. This is not abnormal as our surge capacity tanks. Psychologists are referring to this set of feelings and emotions as “Pandemic Flux Syndrome”; the ebb and flow of emotions, anxiety and depression.
Organisations will need to adapt their businesses to these new anxieties, fears and phobias. From speaking with individuals and organisations over the last number of months there are a number of contributing factors to these anxieties such as concerns around health and safety, work-life balance, team and new social dynamics.
45% of those experiencing mental ill health upon returning to the office have been caused by concerns about their own safety due to Covid-19 and the risk of contraction and transmitting it to unvaccinated or at-risk children and loved ones.
We’re seeing very mixed views on work life balance and flexibility; where some of our own research states that 60% of workers feel working from home has a positive effect on their well-being there are others who have struggled to switch off and to find those boundaries.
Concerns are high relating to who we will be working in proximity with, whether these individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated and the different views on vaccinations. These may all impact team and social dynamics, leading to some unrest or even social exclusion.
Organisations, leaders, and HR Departments have a challenge on their hands now when it comes to creating a return to office protocol that also maintains individual wellbeing needs and creates a sense of psychological safety.
Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace
The summer of 2021 marked the release of the new ISO Psychological Safety Standards. The ISO 45003 is designed to help organisations manage psychosocial risk as part of its ISO 45001 OHS management system in a holistic way. This new addition to the standard includes a definition of what are known psychosocial hazards that have the potential for psychological harm, namely;
- Aspects of how work is organized – role and expectations, autonomy, demands, remote working, workload, working hours
- Social factors at work – relationships, leadership, culture, reward, career development, support, respect, work-life balance, bullying and;
- Work environment – equipment and hazardous tasks
Psychological safety means more than having an EAP services and some fun activities, it’s about listening to your employees, understanding the new anxieties and taking considerations to put measures in place to help mitigate these hazards and fears about returning to the office.
For example, the McKinsey report showed that 62% of employees stated that improved air filtration could decrease the stress they experienced from returning on-site. It also highlights 60% of office returners reported that flexible work schedules and hybrid working arrangements (57%) contributed to reduced stress and anxiety. How we lead people and integrate teams back into the workplace while supporting their work-life balance will all have an impact during this transition and beyond.
Employers can potentially reduce stress and anxiety for their workers by considering mental health as part of a holistic on-site return plan. So, while the organisation may not have all the answers for the vast array of anxieties, fears and phobias an individual may be dealing with, managing psychological safety is about considering the human and their individual needs. It’s about putting interventions in place that are preventative. With this we can continue to create the fertile ground that is necessary to build resilience to enable employees to thrive now and into the future.
About the Author
Elysia Hegarty is the Associate Director and Wellness Lead at Cpl’s Future of Work Institute.
Working within multiple sectors Elysia helps promote a healthy workforce that supports business needs and enhances productivity and engagement. She does this through a range of strategies including workshops, speaking engagements, workplace wellness strategies and diagnostic assessments. For more information contact Elysia at firstname.lastname@example.org
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