Well-being on return to the workplace: the leader’s role

Returning to the workplace remains uncertain for the vast majority of people. Even with the complete vaccination schedule, the proper care and the slow return to a certain “normality”, many of the employees feel insecure about interrupting the new routine and returning to the workplace with new and different dynamics. Organizations face unique challenges, with new requirements in the construction of this new phase, being essential to lead and support teams during the transition back to work.

Recognize pandemic fatigue

Pandemic fatigue is an expected and natural phenomenon of individual reaction to exhaustion described by the World Health Organization (WHO) and which is expected to affect more than 60% of the population, due to the intense demands of individual and collective protective behavior against the new coronavirus.

Here are some of the signs:

  • Lack of motivation and feeling of ineffectiveness
  • Very tired, even when sleep is adequate
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or stress (very associated with insecurity)
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you feel any of these signs (in yourself or in your team) know that this is a natural process that you need to be aware of and that it is important to find support tools that help to overcome this situation and prevent its worsening.

Know the concerns

Although the pandemic has affected all people in some way, each of them has certainly experienced different situations. They lost connection with colleagues, family and friends, some lost loved ones, others enjoyed being at home closer to their own… It is therefore essential to learn more about how this historic time impacted employees, what resulted from this experience and what fears or needs they have. If you are leading a company or a team, it is essential to recognize the most reported concerns and needs:

  • Physical interaction with others: re-interacting with many people can be strange at the end of this more isolated time.
  • Health risks: people feel that even with vaccination the risk can exist.
  • Transport: Some fear of public transport but at the same time heavy traffic.
  • Caregivers: The need to take care of a loved one, which in the office is not possible.
  • Breaking new routines: New adaptation to schedules, ways of being, etc.

Cultivate resilience

Building and promoting resilience helps employees better manage stress and meet challenges at work.

  • Encourage and provide opportunities for practices that foster emotional resilience such as mindfulness and meditation.
  • Facilitate access to tools that develop cognitive resilience such as positive psychology, coaching, among others.
  • Work with the leadership team to model healthy behavior in the face of challenges, valuing learning from mistakes and emphasizing positive movement.
  • Promote psychological safety environments in which employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear of judgment.
  • Create a healthy work environment that allows people to set reasonable limits on working hours, prioritize sleep, exercise, and other self-care actions.
  • Recognize employees’ abilities and value and proactively validate and celebrate their contribution to fostering self-confidence and creating a more positive work environment.

Making health and well-being a priority

Remind employees of existing mental health and wellness resources available and consider creating new resources:

  • Benefits and Resources: Provide a comprehensive list of health and wellness resources available within your organization/company and also from external organizations and associations.
  • Stress management: Offer guidance on how to promote health and well-being throughout the day. Encourage and facilitate access to activities such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness and meditation.
  • Mental and Emotional Wellness Initiative: Think about launching a health and wellness initiative that allows you to accompany and help employees return to the workplace.

Collaborate and be flexible

For many it may have been easy to break habits at the beginning of the pandemic due to the clear sense of urgency, but breaking habits again may be more difficult for some. While some felt immense challenges working from home, others adapted and felt benefits from remote work. It is important to allow employees to return in a gradual and careful transition. Involve employees as much as possible in creating the new “normal”. This will make it possible to take advantage of the learnings of this pandemic phase and from them to build more effective and collaborative work environments!

And as an employee?

Organizations (and leaders) have an additional responsibility to create a culture and environment that promotes the well-being of their employees. On the other hand, it is essential that each employee also has their individual responsibility to look for ways to develop their self-knowledge, their resilience and their well-being, communicating their needs and contributing to a more effective and constructive environment.

This article was prepared based on the folder “Returning to the Workplace” of the American Society of Psychiatry.

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