Creating a supportive return-to-work strategy post-pandemic

Creating a supportive return-to-work strategy post-pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of individuals worldwide. As more and more organizations have employees return to the workplace, organisations focus on facilitating the operations and management aspects of working from the office and often do not prioritize the mental impact this transition has on employees. It is crucial to prioritize mental health and create a supportive return-to-work strategy. 

The pandemic has brought about unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and isolation. Many employees have experienced the loss of loved ones, financial hardships, and the challenges of remote work. As a result, mental health concerns have skyrocketed, with studies showing a significant increase in depression, anxiety, and burnout.

 While some employees may welcome the return to on-site work, one-third of respondents in a new McKinsey survey said their return to work has hurt their mental health. Almost half of those who have not yet returned anticipate negative mental health impacts. 

Recognizing the impact of the pandemic on mental health is the first step in creating a supportive return-to-work strategy. Organizations must acknowledge that employees may be carrying emotional baggage from the past year and provide a safe space to express their concerns and seek support. This can be done through open communication channels, regular check-ins, and access to mental health resources.

Some practical measures that organisations can take:

Assess the situation:

It’s important to get a true sense of what’s happening within your organization. Anonymous employee surveys can give you a big-picture view of how people are faring. Properly crafted, they can help you find out:

What specific workplace factors are contributing to poor mental health (such as a blurring of work and home life or a lack of control over workload)?

How comfortable workers are in approaching their managers with mental health issues?

If people understand where or how to access support?

Destigmatizing mental health in the workplace:

Employees should feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns without fear of judgment or repercussions. This can be achieved through awareness campaigns, training programs, and leadership modelling. When leaders openly discuss their mental health challenges and prioritize self-care, it sets a positive example for employees to follow.

Flexible work arrangements:

Many employees developed a routine of working from home which worked for their lifestyles, supporting different working arrangements can play a significant role in supporting employees' mental health post-pandemic: The pandemic has shown that remote work can be effective, and many employees have grown accustomed to its flexibility. Organizations can consider implementing hybrid work models that allow employees to have a mix of remote and in-office work. This flexibility can help reduce stress and improve work-life balance, ultimately benefiting employees' mental well-being.

Prioritise creating a positive work environment:

This includes fostering a culture of support, collaboration, and empathy. Encouraging teamwork, recognizing achievements, and providing opportunities for growth and development can contribute to a sense of belonging and overall job satisfaction. When employees feel valued and supported, their mental health is more likely to thrive.

Providing access to mental health resources:

This is a critical component of a supportive return-to-work strategy. Organizations can partner with employee assistance programs like Manah Wellness to offer counselling services, workshops, and educational materials. These resources can help employees cope with stress, build resilience, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. It is essential to communicate the availability of these resources regularly and ensure employees know how to access them confidentially.

Ongoing communication and feedback:

Organizations should regularly check in with employees to assess their well-being and gather feedback on the effectiveness of support initiatives. This can be through one-on-one discussion with managers and assessing the feedback given by their mental health service providers. This feedback loop allows organizations to make necessary adjustments and continuously improve their mental health support systems.

Leave no one behind:

Key to the successful utilization of these strategies is tailoring them to be inclusive, particularly for minorities and LGBTQ employees. Every individual is unique and employers can create inclusive workplaces that are safe and informed, integrate culturally responsive care and offer diverse provider networks in employee mental health benefits.

As employees come closer to a sense of normalcy, organizational leaders must remember this is not the same workforce. New expectations, new needs, and new efforts by employees advocating for themselves are shaping the return-to-work culture. By recognizing the impact of the pandemic on mental health, destigmatizing mental health in the workplace, offering flexible work arrangements, creating a positive work environment, providing access to mental health resources, and maintaining open communication, organizations can create a supportive return-to-work strategy that prioritizes the well-being of their employees. By investing in mental health support, organizations can foster a healthier and more productive workforce in the post-pandemic era.