It’s been said many times, but we’ll say it again: working in the pandemic is not business as usual.
Whatever your job, chances are you have had to make some adjustments. For many, that adjustment was moving the workplace to your kitchen table or home office. And it wasn’t an easy feat. Despite all obstacles, we’ve navigated through Zoom meetings, noisy households and working in sweatpants (okay, that one might not be so bad).
So, if talk of returning to the workplace is stirring up anxiety for you – you’re not alone. In fact, it’s completely normal and expected.
And guess what? Your employer is likely just as stressed as you are. Will everyone be safe? What protocols can be put in place? What happens if somebody tests positive?
The good news is that you can ask for help. And if you think some extra help is what you need, here are some tips.
- Open up a dialogue. Sometimes, even the most astute manager will not notice when something is wrong. If you’re struggling with the idea of returning to the workplace, ask to meet in private and start a conversation. You don’t need to disclose everything, but you can let them know you may need some additional support as plans for returning to the workplace get outlined.
- Focus on solutions. Focus on what would make you feel more comfortable in your return to the workplace. For example, you might consider a progressive re-entry into the workplace with shorter hours and days and gradual increases over time.
- Make an appointment with your health care professional. After the initial conversation with your manager, make an appointment with your care provider to ask for their input on what an effective accommodation might be. Be sure to request documentation that states your limitations.
- Say what you need. If you’re comfortable, give as much context as possible to your supervisor so they can help you craft an effective accommodation plan. Sometimes it takes a few attempts.
- Schedule check-ins. Keep your manager updated about how things are going. Check-ins, even informal ones, are a great way to manage the accommodation plan.
- Take care of yourself. Sometimes self care means taking the time you need to reflect and assess your path ahead. Don’t be afraid to speak with your supervisor about sick-leave policies and supports, such as benefit plans and employee assistance programs.
Creating a mentally healthy transition back to the workplace requires acting from a place of compassion.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Build trust. Always maintain integrity and confidentiality. At every opportunity, share information with your teams about the plans in progress, and ask them to share their feedback and concerns with you. Where possible, share your own concerns as well and how you are coping personally.
- Give time to talk. If you have only one or two employees at a time, overlap their shifts by a few minutes to encourage employees to talk to each other, and to you. This way, your team members know they are not alone in their concerns.
- Encourage participation. Ask your employees to participate in the decision-making process. You can recruit a committee or send out an anonymous survey for those who are not comfortable speaking during virtual meetings.
- Be specific. When sharing plans, provide as much detail as you can. Staff will feel safer if you can provide specific information based on the latest research evidence. Include hyperlinks to the actual research.
- Respect privacy. Where some individuals have had private conversations with you, be sure not to disclose this during larger meetings. It is a breach of confidentiality to disclose an employee’s mental health status or personal accommodation requests. When talking to members of your staff, avoid asking if they are struggling with their mental health, and instead ask if there are any problems that are interfering with their work, or if they will be able to perform all the essential duties of their job.
- Educate employees. Just because you ‘get it’ does not mean other staff do. Ensure your team and workplace are educated on mental health concerns related to COVID-19 and know how to access professional supports if they wish.
- Be positive: Create morale-boosting measures where possible, such as online team-building exercises, virtual games (did someone say trivia?), or a place for staff to share lighthearted thoughts, photos and articles.
- Be proactive: Take the time to talk about the importance of employee mental health. This paves the way for open conversation and shows your team that their wellbeing is a priority for you. Know, and understand, that you are part of your employees’ support network.
For more tips and guidance on returning to work, check out CMHA Ontario’s toolkit on returning to the workplace. This toolkit provides guidance on how to support employees’ mental health as they plan safe transitions back into their workplaces and to help employers as they develop policies and procedures for supporting staff returning to the work environment.