As businesses are starting to get back to some sort of normality, and more colleagues are being asked to return to work after shielding, you could be forgiven for thinking that things will go back to the way they were.

However it is not going to be that straightforward.  Recent research from the University of Bath highlights the mental health toll for those that are shielding. For some, going back to work will undoubtedly be a relief, but there may be others who are dreading it, and there could be many reasons for this including:

  •  Concern about their own health or infecting their family
  • Coping with more time out of the house
  • Feelings of guilt for working from home
  • Managing homeschooling, childcare and other caring responsibilities on top of work.
  • Feelings of isolation from friends, family and colleagues.
  • Grief for loss of family, friends or a lifestyle affected by COVID-19

So what can we do to help ease the transition to ensure that colleagues returning to the workplace after shielding are supported in the best way possible?

Naturally it is going to take a period of adjustment while people find their feet again and get used to new ways of working.  There has never been a more important time to instil a culture of kindness and compassion to help communicate the changes in your business.

Here are a few ideas of how you can make your colleagues feel welcome as they return to work and engage your team to be even stronger than before:

1. Welcome them back and let them know that you are pleased to see them

Ask them about their experiences of shielding and have open conversations about their feelings about being back to work. It is important that there is space to talk about any concerns colleagues who return to work may have after shielding as not everybody’s experience will have been the same. If people feel included and valued from the moment they walk through the door, it will go a long way in reducing any anxiety they may be feeling.

2. Remember that colleagues that have been working at home  have still been working, and may have been missing the team and regular social contact.

Just because they have not physically been present in the workplace does not mean they have not been working.  For some it could have been much harder as they would have been juggling family or caring commitments whilst trying to complete all their work tasks, and it is important that everyone in the team appreciates this.

Whilst they may have not been dealing with commutes and the onsite work challenges,  coming back into the workplace after several months away could take a huge adjustment and shift in mindset.   You can read about what presenteeism is and how to avoid it here

3. Do adhere to PPE and social distancing rules 

There will have been a serious clinical reason why your colleague has been shielding.  Remind everyone in the workplace to adhere to social distancing rules and create a feeling of safety. Don’t forget to lead by example!

4. Talk with colleagues about what might help them to feel comfortable in the work setting.  

 It may be that they just want to get on with things, or there might be something that would make them feel much more confident going to work.  Think about whether there are ways to ‘ease’ your colleagues back into work e.g. could they start with tasks that require less contact with clients or colleagues?

5. Acknowledge their increased vulnerability and respect individual differences.

 If the risk concerns are discussed in an open and honest way, colleagues will feel much more at ease.  It could also deter any potential workplace bullying if everyone is able to talk freely and feels heard.

Things to avoid

There are a few things that might not help and therefore should be avoided and addressed if seen from any team members.

  • Jokes about having been on holiday or’on a jolly’
  • Expecting colleagues to be able to just ‘slot back in’ 
  • Not respecting individual confidentiality about their reasons for shielding.  
  • Goading or shaming colleagues to go beyond what they are comfortable doing or teasing about their concerns.
  • Not following PPE, good hygiene or social distancing guidelines.

What about you?

Are you someone who has been shielding since lockdown?  How are you feeling about returning to work?  Or are you someone who has worked all the way through?  

I would love to know your thoughts on this important subject, so let’s start a conversation!  Comment below.

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