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Return to work preparation – A 360 degree approach

As businesses across Canada prepare to reopen, employees may feel apprehensive. Many employees will be relieved to be back at work but have concerns about how to maintain physical distancing and work safely though this transition period.

While most employers are evaluating the physical workplace to determine how to keep employees safe, addressing employee anxiety and workplace mental health are important considerations. Many employees report symptoms of anxiety and even panic when thinking about return to work. A majority of Canadians (83%) say that mental and physical health are equally important during this time.*

What can employers do during this unprecedented return to work? Take a 360 degree view, and consider all aspects of employee health and safety. Organizations need to ensure they have taken into account employees’ emotional need for confidence in the return to the work plan. There needs to be a process and mechanism for hearing and considering employees feedback.

  • Communication of the workplace safety plans openly and frequently. This will help to reduce employees’ fear of the unknown when returning to work.
  • Employers should confirm they’ve determined the necessary measures to maintain physical distancing, appropriate hygiene practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) if applicable. Helping employees understand what’s being done will ease their concerns. Employees need to know that their physical safety has been thoughtfully planned and is being carried out in accordance with health and safety legislation and expert advice applicable to their workplace.
  • Engaging employees in open dialogue can help reassure an anxious workforce. Consider a multi-layered return to work committee, making sure input from workers and leaders is represented. This can take a bit of time but it will ensure all perspectives have been considered. Senior leadership can acknowledge concerns, and take time to point out support provided.

Tools to help employees cope with anxiety

Virtual mental health therapy can help with anxiety and fear. Telemedicine provides access to health professionals from the comfort of home. Does the benefits plan include EAP or other support services? Providing a list of the services available can help.  See People Corporation’s virtual health guide.

Accommodating employees

What if employees feel too anxious to work? Feeling anxious isn’t a disability but it’s important to be prepared and understand all accommodation obligations. For some employees a mental health condition may have been triggered by the pandemic. For others, recent events and added stressors could exacerbate an existing mental health condition. Employers need to consider both physical and psychological safety, taking a 360 degree approach.  

* Mental Health Commission of Canada (Nanos Poll April, 2020) https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2020-05/nanos_covid_may_2020.pdf

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