By Guest Contributor Craig Bulow
Craig Bulow explains how to boost employee mental health and wellbeing after lockdown and with a return to a new normal.
A recent survey by Deloitte shows that 21% of businesses are expecting to return to normal in-person work at their offices, while 68% are considering introducing hybrid models with a mix of in-person and virtual work.
Returning to the office is becoming a more attractive prospect for employees too. The percentage of employees who would like to return to office work increased from 52% in February to 61% in May. A likely reason for this increase is the social isolation felt as a result of lockdowns. With pubs and restaurants opening back up employees have more opportunity to socialise with colleagues once again ─ something they seem keen to do.
socialising with fellow employees feel good, and also has benefits for the business. Maintaining culture was identified as the biggest concern for businesses considering a virtual or hybrid model, with 19% also concerned about effective collaboration. Working face-to-face with colleagues can both help maintain a good working culture and boost collaboration.
It is also important to consider the mental health effects of remote working. Those who switched to remote working as a result of the lockdown reported feeling less connected to colleagues (67%), taking less exercise (46%), developing musculoskeletal problems (39%) and disturbed sleep (37%). Additionally, over half (56%) said that they found it harder to switch off due to pressure to work extended hours or through difficulty separating work from home life.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of business owners to consider these mental health challenges. This includes finding ways of reintegrating employees back into the office safely, and in a way that benefits people’s wellbeing.
While employees may be keen to reconnect and socialise at work, we cannot expect relationships between staff to instantly return to normal. A year apart can impact relationships in unpredictable ways, not to mention the added pressure of working in close proximity. We have all become used to working in our own space in a silo of one.
Shifting to collaborative work in a shared space could, therefore, lead to increased stress and the potential for conflict. Even where the experience is positive, the increase in personal conversation elicited by a return to in-person work may be disruptive to the business.
One way of helping ease the transition would be to plan informal social events to give people an opportunity to catch up and reconnect on a personal level before facing the pressures of working closely together again.
Of course, it is important to be mindful of safety. Inviting everyone back into the office on the same day would increase the chances of infection and will cause concern for some people who may have developed an understandable sensitivity to the risk of infection. An outdoor event, such as a company barbeque, will reduce the chances of infection and allow for easier, more natural social distancing.
Keeping the connection with Nature
One benefit of working from home for many people has been the ability to reconnect with nature. Whether taking walks, playing with pets, taking breaks in the garden or being surrounded by houseplants ─ working from home seems to provide more opportunity for people to connect with nature.
This biophilia, or ‘love of life’, is a real phenomenon that has measurable benefits to wellbeing. In fact, a working environment that includes natural elements has been found to increase employee wellbeing by around 15%, yet most (58%) of employees work in environments with no natural greenery and 47% in an environment with no natural light.
One way employers can ensure that they are looking after their employees’ mental health and enhance wellbeing is by making sure that the office space has abundant natural light and greenery. Adding some plants to the office or installing a skylight may cut into your budget but the positive effects can be significant and help ease the transition back into the office.
Some employers and workplace managers are taking this one step further by installing vertical garden spaces into the office. These lush green spaces both provide an immediate and lasting connection with nature as well as potentially providing a source of healthy vegetables and herbs for staff lunches.
Spending time nurturing the plants in these vertical gardens can also help with a sense of wellbeing. However, if the space isn’t available to you to install an indoor garden space, you could consider getting in touch with a local community garden to see if they would be open to your staff spending some time helping out.
A great way of combining socialisation with connection to nature is through corporate away days. This doesn’t mean simply transferring work to a different location or under a different guise. Instead, it should be an opportunity to do something fun together as colleagues in a natural green outdoor space.
You could go together into a forest to learn about different plants and animals, for example. Or find a meditation retreat in a natural setting, perhaps. Maybe you could take everyone to help out at a sanctuary together or even learn how to tend to a colony of bees!
Whatever you decide to do, it can be helpful to do it in a natural outdoor setting and have a social element that will aid team building. This helps to keep people socially distanced where necessary, improve working relationships, reconnect staff with each other and with nature, and demonstrates that you are invested in your staff and their wellbeing.
As a business owner or office manager, it will be incredibly important to ensure that the transition back to office working is as smooth as possible. Without careful consideration and management, the reintroduction of office working is likely to cause stress and anxiety, impacting working relationships, efficiency and wellbeing.
Consider what your team members may respond to positively, and help them reconnect on a personal level. By doing so you’ll help to enhance the sense of wellbeing and loyalty of your staff, creating a healthier working environment in your office.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Bulow is the founder of the Away Days Group. Corporate Away Days are a corporate wellbeing events company delivering engaging, inspiring and exciting events focussed on Mindfulness / Wellbeing and Reward / Recognition activities. Corporate Away Days also creates, designs and builds corporate wellbeing policies and provides leading experts for interactive workshops, seminars and talks on improving mental health and overall wellbeing.
Every Corporate Away Days event and activity is chosen with wellbeing as its focus, helping to encourage employee engagement, foster connections and build relationships within the business.
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