After what seems like an eternity, lockdown is slowly being relaxed and we expect that soon, workers will be able to return to work – provided it is safe to do so. This will be a welcome relief for millions of business owners who are keen to get back up and running – but it also brings many challenges, not least of all ensuring stringent health and safety measures are met.

One such challenge for bosses is managing the return of staff to the workplace. For many people, this pause from work is something they will never have experienced in their lifetime. While some people may have taken career breaks to have children, this is punctuated with lack of sleep, family support and an endless round of playgroups and child-focused activities. Getting on for a year based at home, either working or on furlough, is alien territory for most. As such, employers need to be fully aware of the possible issue that may arise when their team return to the workplace. As we enter Stress Awareness Month 2021, it’s imperative that employers recognise the pressures that their staff will have been under – and now to negotiate them.

Consider the implications

Think about it this way. In normal circumstances, return to work is very much a phased process. Employees who have been off on long term sick would not be expected to be home one day and back at their desks the next. Where possible, gradually reintroducing employees will be better than expecting a full working week straight away. Consider working to a rota so that the entire team has gets a few days back in the office environment before they are expected to make a full return.

Health concerns

Some employees may be feeling anxious about returning to work, with regards to their health. As an employer, you’ll be fully aware of your obligations to protect the health and safety of staff against COVID 19. You’ll know you are required by law to do a full Covid-19 risk assessment and you’ll have the floor stickers, safe workstations and be ensuring regular handwashing.

Despite this, some employees will still feel vulnerable, even with the huge progress made in the vaccine programme. Make sure you take this in to account when working with your staff and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns, so you can in turn reassure them.

Everyone reacts differently

There was never any rule book for lockdown – and so every one of us will have reacted differently. It’s important that employers recognise this. Staff who have been working from home, often while looking after other family members, may feel stressed, overwhelmed and on edge. Some may even feel burnt out. Others will have thrived, and been more productive than ever – and are now resentful at coming back to the office environment. Furloughed staff, on the other hand, may have gone several different ways. Some will have enjoyed the break, thrown themselves into fitness regimes and worked on DIY projects. Others may have felt lost, bored, lonely and without purpose during these long periods at home.

Whichever camp your staff are in, psychologically it will be a huge shock to the system. People will naturally have built up their own routine and rhythm whether furloughed or working from home and returning to work will be yet another change. Many will have to readjust to the noise and interaction with others that the working environment brings and while some people thrive with this, others may have been moved from their ideal state of quiet and calm into an assault on their nerves.

Reduction in productivity

Following on from this point, some employers may notice an initial reduction on productivity. Many staff who have been out of the working environment for some time may find it difficult to readjust to being back at work. This could mean that it takes a while for them to work as effectively as they were doing previously. Allow them a period of adjustment, lower your expectations for the first week or so and consider a phased return.

Be mindful of resentment

When furloughed and working from home staff eventually meet, there’s a chance that there may be some resentment on both sides. The team who have continued work may feel they have held the business together in exceptionally stressful circumstances, while their colleagues have had two months chilling out at home. Furloughed staff, on the other hand, may have felt the anxiety of job security and being out of the loop for this period.

Keeping everyone happy is a difficult balance so keeping your staff engaged, providing clear communication is key and encourage them to look after their mental wellbeing. When it’s safe to do so, staff team building activities are a great way of reconnecting your team.