By Alex Wilkins Tech.IOSH, Head of Business Development at iHASCO
As government restrictions ease, some organisations are already starting to welcome staff back into the workplace.
Employee health, safety and wellbeing is a key factor to ensuring a smooth transition for those returning to work, and so employers and employees alike must be ready and prepared to return. The following strategies contain advice that we have given to some of our 10,000+ clients who have already started to, or are considering reopening the workplace to staff in the near future.
1. Update your COVID-secure risk assessment
If you haven’t already done so, it is vital that your COVID-secure risk assessment is reviewed and updated so it is current. Although a legal requirement, your COVID-19 risk assessment will be specific to your workplace, as will the safety measures in place, to ensure you are operating a COVID-secure business. Re-read government advice to check you are following the most recent guidance, consult with employees or your health & safety representative and be aware that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can carry out a COVID-secure inspection on any business. They won’t just be looking for evidence of your COVID-19 risk assessment, they will want to see the measures in action, and employee understanding and cooperation of the controls in place.
2. Communicate effectively with your employees
The simplest and most effective way to help employees feel safe upon returning to work is to share your COVID-secure risk assessment and safety measures with them well in advance. Whilst companies must share the results of the assessment, it makes sense to do this before reopening so it not only gives employees the chance to raise any concerns beforehand, but also helps them understand how their working environment may be different. Additionally, sharing any copies of amended policies and procedures so they can review them in advance, rather than on their first day back, will make employees feel more valued and likely to engage with any new safety measures. Individual return to work interviews can be a useful way of welcoming employees back, answering their questions and checking they feel ready and prepared to resume work. Regular communication is going to be essential in helping your employees feel safe, confident and capable in their roles.
3. Provide and refresh training
Your staff are key to getting back to business. Their safety should be your priority and demonstrating this to them will go a long way in creating a happy and productive workplace. Employers who offer online workplace training can quickly and effectively roll out health and safety compliance courses, such as fire safety and DSE awareness, to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations. Providing refresher training to staff upon returning to work will give them the confidence to carry out their daily tasks effectively, whilst knowing that their safety is taken seriously.
4. Support employees with their mental health
One of the biggest challenges for employers throughout the pandemic was supporting their workforce with their mental health and this year will be no different. For many, a return to the workplace will help establish routines and a sense of normality. However for some it will be daunting, and will increase their levels of anxiety. If you haven’t already, there’s no better time to develop a mental health strategy and start having positive conversations with your team about their mental health. Investment in mental health support needs to be for the long term, and come from the top down to instill a positive change. A recent report from Deloitte showed that employers can gain a 6:1 return on investment when supporting staff with mental health and wellbeing.
5. Manage expectations
Be clear in communicating your expectations for easing employees back to work. Your planning, organisation and preparation is going to be vital to your success. Ensure business leaders and management teams are aligned and recognise that different individuals may have different needs. Not only do you need to balance legal obligations, you need to remember that your employees are at the core of your organisation and will help create the future for your business. For further reading, download our returning to work whitepaper for more information on supporting employees who have had an extended period of time away from the workplace.