Coronavirus and Jitterbugs: Dealing with return-to-office anxieties

29 July 2021

Now that restrictions on UK businesses have started to ease, many employers are starting to plan a return to the office. The government has suggested a gradual return over the summer months, giving employers time to consider longer term strategies. 

Options include: 

  • formalising hybrid models of home and office-based working;
  • requiring employees to return to the office full time; and
  • moving to permanent home working.

Identify pros and cons

The office is a place where new talent recruited during the pandemic can be developed and nurtured, a key consideration for bigger firms with a lot of new staff. It’s also a place where collaboration can happen more organically. On the other hand, without the daily commute a lot of people have found their work-life balance much easier to achieve.

Employers and managers need to start conversations with employees about what has worked well for them while working from home, and what they’ve missed about being in an office. Surveys have become popular in larger companies to understand workforce views, but smaller organisations can talk directly to each team member. 

Create a Covid-safe working environment

Employers will need to demonstrate to employees that government guidelines are being followed, and that the office’s layout, cleanliness, and ventilation has been reviewed and improved where necessary. Updating staff on how the offices are being prepared for their return is important.

To provide a greater sense of safety, some employers are asking staff to use lateral flow tests when they go into the office. 

Mental health and well-being

Most employers are encouraging their employees to be vaccinated. Employers cannot mandate the vaccine, except in the care sector. There is likely to be some anxiety among employees about working alongside colleagues who aren’t fully vaccinated yet, and some may wish to delay their return to the office. Consider an individual’s underlying health conditions or other risk factors, such as pregnancy.

Where possible, adjust working hours so that employees using public transport are not required to travel at peak times.  

Aside from flexible working requests, companies will need to be prepared for grievances and resignations from employees if they feel their return to work is handled unfairly. 

Employee assistance programmes can provide counselling to staff with anxieties about returning to the office. This will support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

The next few months are likely to be busy for employers and people managers as they navigate the new normal. Please contact Kerri Constable for a conversation around return to work issues.