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How Businesses Can Reduce Stress In The Workplace

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How Can Workplace Stress Be Reduced When Employees Return from Being Furloughed?

Getting into the new routine of returning to the workplace after being furloughed for weeks on end is stressful, coupled with worker anxiety of catching Coronavirus. Businesses can help to reduce workplace stress with good hygiene, social distancing, and with the tips in this article.

To say that 2020 has been a strange year would be a massive understatement!

2020

We’ve seen devastating wildfires, a deadly explosion in Beirut, fatal plane crashes, social unrest stemming from the death of George Floyd, Earthquakes, floods, and a global pandemic that has killed more than 1,000,000 people across the globe.

By the end of March, many businesses worldwide were ordered to close, forcing companies in countries such as the United States and the UK to place their employees on furlough.

A furlough can essentially be defined as a temporary leave of employees due to the unique needs of a company or employer.

COVID-19 UK Response

The COVID-19 pandemic forced 7 out of 10 UK firms to make the hard, often moved, decision to furlough varying numbers of staff. Much before the epidemic, furlough wasn’t a word used often, and so it became a popular keyword in Google searches.

Furloughing

Much of the UK population weren’t accustomed to the notion of widespread furlough schemes. This drastic measure was a complete unknown for all, including businesses. It meant that staff members were no longer required to go to work and instead had to stay at home during national ‘lockdowns’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This was a very stressful time. People were confined to their own homes, unable to visit family and loves ones, with many worried whether they would have a job to go back to like a quarter of UK businesses were forced to close indefinitely.

Many individuals, who hadn’t previously suffered from any wellness or mental health issues, found it challenging to adapt to the isolation of the ‘lockdown’ period. These struggles were further exacerbated when coupled with growing financial uncertainties, homeschooling pressures, and health fears.

It has been reported that 69% of adults in the UK have feelings of worry about the effect of COVID-19 and its impact on their lives.

Back To The Workplace

Returning to normal is a positive step forward for the country’s economy, household finances, and the normalcy of day to day life, however many employees have met this reset period after working from home and or being furloughed with feelings of worry and trepidation.

First, there’s the recovery from the break of the routine of going to the office.

Then there’s the fear of contracting COVID-19 with many people feeling anxious about being around people.

Also, there is a ‘new normal’ for most companies. Roles may have changed, staff let go. Therefore worker stress levels are at an all-time high.

Some employees need to compete for fewer roles in business.

How Businesses Can Reduce Worker Stress

To minimise stress levels and provide sufficient help to employees that require it, employers should consider the following strategies:

Communication

When an employee returns from furlough, adequate communication must be established between the employer and the staff member.

In large organisations, this will likely be delivered via managers. It is vital that ensure that employees know who their delegated point of contact is, should any issues or concerns arise.

Empathy

Businesses must try to adopt a compassionate and understanding approach. It’s important to note that each individual employee will be dealing with a different set of circumstances at home.

Whilst ordinarily, you’d try to keep external factors out of the workplace, incidences of vulnerable family members at home or underlying health conditions must be taken into consideration. This needs to be done to ensure that employees feel comfortable explaining how they think and aren’t afraid to speak up if they require any workplace adjustments or additional help.

For best practice, communication should be conducted privately. This will give each employee the opportunity, to be honest, and open, rather than bottling up any anxieties or concerns they may have if they are uncomfortable discussing their feelings in a public setting.

Ideally, where possible, it would be advantageous to have a personal meeting or phone call before an employee returns to work. Especially if there are drastic changes afoot.

Collaboration

The anticipation of the first day back could well be a factor causing an employee stress, not knowing what new measures will look like or how the office has changed in their time away. It’s common to find that the anxiety associated with these kinds of situations are often much worse than reality, so alleviating any stress, as time-consuming as it may be, could actually save time and money in the long run.

Suppose an employee discloses that they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. In that case, you should take steps to ensure they feel comfortable when they return to the workplace and always keep communication lines open.

If you are not equipped to deal with such concerns, find out who the best point of contact would be. You should make it clear to employees that you can offer additional help and support to them if they need it. Whether that be HR, senior management, or even their GP. If issues continue to persist, reassure them that a plan can be put into place and try to work with them closely to find a solution.

In terms of larger meetings, it’s critical to communicate the unprecedented nature of current events to your employees and let them know that concerns and issues are bound to arise as you all work together to navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let them know that they are all individually valued as members of the overarching team and that you will all get through the situation as a cohesive unit.

Provide Training in New Business Practices

The workplace is going to operate differently from how it did previously. Many people will feel stressed about the changes and concerned about the implications of these changes on their role.

For example, they may be questioning – can they keep up or what will happen to them if they make mistakes? An anxious mind is often filled self-doubt, so new concepts must be communicated gradually, especially if you notice a team member feeling overwhelmed.

Communicating any changes to employees is paramount, and training should be conducted as soon as they return.

Explain the new measures and reasons for such changes whilst simultaneously informing employees that they are free to ask questions whenever required and that no items are stupid questions.

Information

Provide as much information as possible before the start date and reinforce the notion that returning to work after a furlough period is just like the first day back at school. This will help to mitigate any stress issues regarding the first day before at work and will allow staff to ask questions that they feel unsure about.

Once people have returned, emphasise that additional training can be provided for people who need it.

Remember that the principal stress for many people will be the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Ensure that all staff members are aware of new practices in the workplace related to social distancing, hygiene, and safety.

Reassure staff that the business is following official guidelines and will provide additional cleaning to the work environment.

It can also help to ask employees to make suggestions aimed at making the workplace safer; this will help them feel valued and less stressed, knowing they can influence issues that need to be addressed.

Issues may arise once the workforce is fully operational, so make sure that you follow up in the weeks and months after returning to the workplace to check if everything is running smoothly.

Flexible Working Hours

Due to the furlough scheme, employees have had a long period where they have not been working. Returning to their previous workloads and expectations can be a shock to the system, so leniency in the early days may be required until employees re-establish their groove!

Where possible, staggered starts and decreased hours may be advisable. Those that have children that have returned to schools at less than full capacity may find it difficult trying to juggle school hours and their work schedule. Especially if services they relied on, such as after school care are not yet operational.

It is better to allow employees to come back in a manner that suits their current circumstance, so they aren’t spending their whole time at work stressing over how they will manage.

Whilst all this leniency may sound counterintuitive to a business looking to reopen its operations, stress is one of the biggest obstacles to productivity. The more you can alleviate stress from your workers, the more productive they will be. They will also be more loyal to a boss that looks after them through challenging times.

Social Distancing, Hygiene

It is crucial to enforce social distancing guidelines once your employees have returned to work. These guidelines are in place to help safeguard your business as much as possible and limit your employees’ chance of contracting the virus.

You should provide sufficient spacing between work areas. Standard guidelines suggest 150 to 300 sq ft of office space per person, you must also allow for 1.5-metre distance between workstations, including plastic screens where possible and feasible.

Limit the number of people that can access bathrooms, kitchens, and other communal areas. Additionally, it can be a good idea to carry out frequent spot checks to ensure that guidelines are always being adhered to by staff members.

As a business owner, the natural response would be to hit everything at 110% to try and recuperate all your losses. “Make hay while the sun shines” But nurturing your team and getting them up to speed gradually will likely pay dividends in the future.

Summary

COVID-19 will be around for some time to come, and there will be varying levels of lockdown to deal with rises in outbreaks.  Empathy and support from management will go a long way in combating mental health issues among staff.

Greater collaboration on projects, more training, communication and sharing of information will keep everyone on the same page and the business strong.

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