Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Prior to this, she worked in a photography studio as a wedding album editor and also attended work experience at a local library.
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As lockdown restrictions are slowly lifted and more businesses are allowed to reopen, many of us are looking forward to going back to a sense of normality and routine. However, there is a growing concern about the psychological as well as physical barriers that businesses must face before they can resume regular operations.
A survey of 2,000 participants conducted by Bupa Health Clinics revealed that 65% of people in the UK are anxious about returning to their place of work. The figures were notably higher in Wales, with 77% of staff feeling apprehensive about returning to work out of fear of contracting the virus.
Further research by consulting firm Theta Financial Reporting also found a majority do not want to return to a normal office environment and hours, preferring to continue working from home or to continue shielding with vulnerable members of their household. The benefits of remote working have already given businesses something to consider in the long-term, but for those who are unable to continue working from home, they may feel that the risks of going back to work outweigh the positives of face-to-face interaction.
What are the potential risks?
The biggest concern among employees included social distancing measures in overcrowded office spaces, along with customer-facing roles, childcare, and longer commutes on buses and trains. In addition, many are still unsure how to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines correctly, with the risk of incorrect procedures leading to a potential second outbreak.
Laura, a graphic designer from Blaenavon, is anxious about having to return to her office under the new social distancing guidelines. She says:
“I work for a local printing company, and our office space is very small - too small for our desks to be arranged to meet the 2m social distancing rule. We have a small shared kitchen and only one toilet.”
“On top our hectic work schedule, I’m worried it’s going to be difficult to find the time to sanitise all door handles and kitchen utensils after each person has used them. We also have members of the public entering the office on a daily basis. I am worried that a return to “normal” working conditions would increase the risk of me catching the virus and bringing it home and spreading it to family members.”
Social distancing measures will need to be in place before a business can reopen, but for shared office spaces with multiple companies under one roof, this will be difficult to manage, as Alun from Pontypool worries:
“I go back to my office next week. I work for a phone system provider in a small managed office which has shared toilets and kitchen facilities with other businesses in the building.”
“I trust my colleagues to follow social distancing rules and changes have been made but I barely know anyone else in the building and their hygiene. I’m concerned for if these other businesses do not follow social distancing rules like the two-meter rule seeing as people regularly break it in public.”
What can be done to ensure staff feel safe?
Employers will need to address all these issues with staff prior to their return to work. It is essential that staff feel safe and comfortable to return to their workplace with the correct procedures in place.
There is plenty that employers can do to ensure that staff are eased safely back into work. For example, introducing flexible working hours or staggered shifts may help reduce the amount of staff on the premises as well as alleviating some travel worries by allowing staff to avoid travelling during rush hour. It’s important that employers put in place clear guidelines on social distancing and hygiene in the workplace – and that staff are made aware of what’s expected of them and the measures that are in place to protect them.
Regular check-ins with staff will help to assess individuals who are struggling with their mental health and identify those that require additional support to make the transition back to work post-lockdown run as smoothly as possible. Two-way, open communication between employers and employees is key.
There may also be positives to returning to the office and it might be useful to focus on these, where possible. Some of the mental health benefits might include overcoming feelings of isolation, catching up with colleagues and a return to structure and routine.
For further guidance on managing a safe return to the workplace, take a look at our ‘back to work’ guides which cover the main areas to consider, such as planning and communication, and cleaning hygiene in the workplace: https://rwaconsultancy.com/coronavirus-updates/return-to-work-guides
If you’re someone who is worried about returning to work, it is important to inform your line manager about your concerns as soon as possible. More information for improving your mental health can be found here: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/transitioning-back-to-work-after-lockdown/
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