Transitioning back to work after lockdown
We asked Dr. Jo Yarker, organisational psychologist from Affinity Health at Work and Birkbeck, University of London, to share her recommendations for staying mentally healthy as the country begins to think about going back into workplaces.
As we start to return to work, there is a lot to think about. Lockdown has affected us all in different ways, and it is only normal to feel uncertain about what the future holds.
Many people feel confused, worried and apprehensive about going back to the workplace. Organisations will be considering a range of adjustments to the way work is done, to comply with government recommendations. These adjustments will depend on your job, and your individual circumstances.
Everyone’s situation is unique. However, as you approach your return to work, there are some general principles that will give you the best chance of getting back to work and staying mentally healthy over the coming months.
Talk and connect
It is important to keep in touch with colleagues and your line manager. You don’t need to talk about work, but a quick check-in will help you feel connected. We have all been impacted by the coronavirus in different ways. You may have been bereaved, felt overwhelmed or isolated, or been unwell. If you share this with others they will be better able to help you in the months ahead.
Plan and prepare
Think about your job and your situation. Does anything need to change to help you do your job well? If you haven’t been told what to expect, ask what provisions have been made to create a safe work environment. It can be helpful to think through what will happen on the first day back:
- How will you get to work?
- Will anything be different as you enter the building?
- Who will be there?
- Will you need to do things differently to get your job done?
Have a return-to-work conversation with your line manager
This is a chance to identify your work priorities and raise any concerns or questions that you have. Things don’t always come out right first time, so if you have something important you want to talk about, try practicing the conversation with a friend, colleague or family member. This will give you the best chance of getting your thoughts across.
Take things one step at a time
The way we all work is likely to keep changing in the coming weeks so we will need to keep adjusting. Don’t expect everything to quickly return to normal. We have a long journey ahead. We may not be able to go back to our old ways of working for some time – and if we are lucky, this could give us an opportunity to do things differently, and better. Look out for yourself, look out for others and take each day and week at a time.
Monitor and review how you are getting on
It is important to have regular check-ins with yourself (How am I coping? Could I do more to help stay mentally healthy?) and check-ins with your team and manager (How are we working? Is there anything we could do differently to work better together?). This way you can address issues as they come up and start to plan and prepare for the journey through COVID-19 together.
Everyone is finding their own path and things might not always go to plan. It is important to be kind to yourself and to be kind to others as we all find our way.
Resources in this toolkit:
Although colleagues haven't necessarily been absent due to illness, the skills that managers will need are essentially the same. This guide focuses on the key competencies that will help.
Similarly, although many haven't been on sick leave, we're all depleted. This guide is part of a suite based on the IGLOo model, looking at the Individual, Group, Leader and Organisation's parts to play in supporting each other.
Now is a good time to prioritise mental health across your workplace. This guide can help you look at your strategy and make sure it's properly embedded.
This PDF guide covers some of the areas you will need to think about as staff come back, including managing the risk of the virus transmitting, providing reassurance, and teaching line managers about new procedures.