Supporting employee wellbeing as your staff return to the office

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a challenge for almost everyone and, if you take some time away from work, picking up from where you left off can be tricky for employees. Whether it’s returning from parental leave, a period of illness, or even a long holiday – such as the Christmas break – giving adequate employee support can really make the difference in enabling your team to mentally adjust back into working life so they can focus on their tasks with a clear head.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought its own challenges; with many offices having to adjust to a partial or full work from home (WFH) system, the need to protect mental wellbeing became all the more apparent. Keeping on top of your mental health while working from home is helpful in making a comfortable shift back into office life.

As lots of businesses are now making the transition back into office or hybrid working, here is some advice for supporting your employee wellbeing as they return to the office. If you arrange to have a flexible WFH system in your business, it’s good to think about how you manage your staff remotely to help maintain consistency, clear communication, and help your staff feel supported in and out of the office.

Consider your own leadership style, too. If your team feel like you manage them with a healthy balance of motivation and compassion, they’re far more likely to be driven in their work (and happier in the workplace). Lead with purpose and have transparent goals that inform your decision making. This will help everyone feel like they’re working towards a shared vision, which is fantastic for team morale and especially important when times get tough so you can face adversity together.

An important part of supporting employee wellbeing is cultivating a space for employee development, such as team leadership skills. This will help your staff feel like you value them and their personal growth. Without overwhelming your employee with a full curriculum of new information as soon as they return, it could be really beneficial to consult with them about upskilling – ask them what they would like to learn more about now they’re back and have a think about what skills or knowledge would benefit your business.

Thinking about how to support new employees is important too. The onboarding process is key for establishing your relationship with your new starter going forward. Letting your employee know that you care about their wellbeing, and that you have the time and resources to support them is a fantastic way to start. It’s especially important if they’ve had a period of absence away from working life, such as to have children. It means they can thrive in their new role knowing they’re safe and that you’ll be there to help them out if they need it.

Likewise, helping a new parent returning to work after their parental leave to feel like they can easily adjust back into work life is great for their wellbeing and their ability to do their job. Lead from a place of compassion, patience, and understanding – especially if this is their first time having a child and they’re unsure what to expect from returning to work.

Trickier still can be managing a return to work after a period of sickness. It’s so important to be understanding and considerate of your employee’s wellbeing; their illness may have had an effect on their mental health (or may have been entirely mental health related), and this can mean they need extra support when back at work. Bear in mind that the employee has done nothing wrong by being unwell, illness and disability can affect anyone at any time, so it’s key to approach conversations about the sickness period with compassion – focusing on the support you can give them rather than how they can try to avoid sickness in the future. In itself, a supportive work environment is a fantastic way to help reduce staff sickness periods because it reduces work-related stress and helps your employees feel like they can be honest about their needs.

Perhaps the most difficult to manage from both an employee and employer perspective might be returning to work after a suspension due to workplace misconduct. Managing this carefully is so important for maintaining everyone’s physical and mental safety (including your other staff) and looking ahead towards a positive working relationship going forward. If you’re unsure how to approach any of these issues yourself, there are HR support services and resources available for small businesses where you can get expert advice.

For more information, watch our webinar on supporting return to work. At York & North Yorkshire Growth Hub, we provide the tools and resources to help small businesses grow. If you’d like any more information or want to know more about the free support we can offer, please don’t hesitate to contact us.