Many have changed their approach to workplace wellness in the wake of COVID-19. Most employers have introduced new ways for teams to connect such as virtual coffee breaks. Many have encouraged employees to take more time off to recharge. Some have introduced reduced timetables and found ways to reduce workloads where possible. One positive from the global pandemic is the shift in approach to employee wellness but with many returning to the workplace, these efforts must not stop.

Spotting a struggling employee

Employees often struggle with workload overload, work related stress, and exhaustion, so taking the time to notice behaviour changes is key. Mental and physical exhaustion are key indicators that an employee is feeling overwhelmed, but it can be difficult to know as a lot of the symptoms aren’t overtly noticeable. Keep an eye out for employees who are more tired than usual as fatigue is one of the first signs of exhaustion. Similarly, many will refrain from social contact and have trouble concentrating. Look out for employees who have actively withdrawn themselves from social situations, this can be another tell-tale sign.

Prevention measures to implement

Spotting that struggling employee is a great first step, but then you treat the symptom not the cause. As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. Managers should actively take measures to prevent employees from battling workplace stress or even full-blown burnout.

Returning to the workplace can be a trigger for stress. Many have gotten used to their daily routines and the sudden change can be difficult to come to terms with. Even things as small as the daily commute can be tough to get used to again. There are a few ways that managers can help to reintroduce ‘normal’ work at a pace to ensure everyone is comfortable while prioritising their wellbeing.

Implement a phased return to work. For some employees, they are probably itching to get back into the office, but for others, the idea of returning can be daunting. Some may want to work half the week at home and the other half in the office. Some may need to take it even slower by doing one day a week in the office. If it is possible, make these adjustments to ensure everyone is comfortable. Similarly, if you had a reduced working schedule, or some employees furloughed, try to reintroduce the world of work at a slower pace.

Have a more flexible annual leave allowance. Many people will feel that they have lost half of the year and it can feel like they need more breaks. This doesn’t necessarily mean just offering more allotted annual leave, this can also mean being more flexible with holiday processes. For example, if you usually need 2 weeks’ notice, maybe try relaxing this to one week, so employees can take breaks as and when they need them.

Offer more autonomy and more support. Employees have likely gotten into their own routines while working remotely, with their own take on how tasks are completed. You may notice that things are being done not quite as you anticipated but if the results are the same, managers should avoid interfering with what is working for the employee. Some employees might be returning to work for the first time in a while, some may have worked throughout the lockdown. In both cases, ensure that you can support them in any aspect they need.

Times of sudden change are stressful to deal with. Employers must understand the impact change can have on employees and actively work toward making the workplace a less stressful, more collaborative, and safer space for all. The shift that many organisations have taken to prioritise their workforce during the crisis was brilliant, but this must be continued to ensure employee wellness remains a priority.