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Simon Blake is Chief Executive at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

As we all adapt to a world without restrictions, many employers will be exploring how their working practices can cater for everyone’s wants whilst balancing what the organisation needs. The last year has been full of unexpected changes, and workplaces and their people have had to transform both what they do and how they do it.

Despite the easing of restrictions being dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, July 19 felt far from joyful for many, with people still feeling anxious about Covid-19 and its effect on their lives. Whilst hospital admissions and mortality rates declined, Covid-19 cases have continued to be reported and fears over the ‘pingdemic’ have escalated. As a result, the green light to return to the office has understandably triggered increased apprehension and stress for many.

Although some employees will be keen to return to the office, others will be nervous about entering the workplace again. The office return has thrown up several divisions, from whether you have to be vaccinated to return, to social distancing and the wearing of facemasks – with possible tensions arising over differing opinions.

It is important when moving forwards that employers consider these varying views and create policies that meet the needs of the business and its people.  There are a number of different policies you can put in place to ensure all employees feel supported and comfortable with working practices moving forwards.

Offer hybrid and remote working

Employers must show the same level of trust in their employees as demonstrated over the last year. If it is possible for your business, you should explore the potential of offering a ‘hybrid’ way of working to employees. This may mean allowing staff to work flexible hours in the working day or to split their time between home and the office to suit their needs. A recent YouGov survey found that one in four businesses will allow all of their staff to work from home at least some time after the pandemic. This ‘hybrid’ way of working is here to stay.

Flexible working arrangements can help employees to better plan their working weeks and feel confident they can adjust their working hours if responsibilities change. Employers need to engage, consult and review with staff every step of the way, making the framework for flexible working clear, and talking to individual employees about what works best for them.

Maintain human connections

Work is never just about what we do, produce or create, it’s about the people too. During the pandemic it has been a challenge to employees together. Organisations need to make an effort to put human connections back at the heart of what they do. This could be started with team days in the office before building to larger events. Making the time to socialise with people from across the organisation can help people see the bigger picture, stay connected, and boost morale. There are lots of different options to bring people together. Consulting with your staff as you go will help you understand their wants. Boosting team morale and getting people back together can also help ease any tension or varying opinions around working practices.

Check in regularly

It is only through openness and trust that we will navigate this period. Employers need to be clear about what they expect from their employees and also give them the chance to feedback on any new working practices or policies. Regular wellbeing catch-ups with colleagues are also a vital way to support people’s mental health, and ensure people feel supported, whether they are working remotely or in the office.  The My Whole Self MOT is a simple, free tool to help employees check in on their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing. Employers can share the MOT with teams, and line managers can use the questions outlined to help start a conversation about mental health during one-to-one sessions.

Creating a safe space for staff to speak openly about wellbeing will help staff ask for support if they are experiencing issues such as poor mental health or have concerns about the working practices being implemented. Wherever people are working from, helping them feel supported to choose to bring their whole self to work is better for wellbeing and better for business.

For more advice on how to create an inclusive workplace culture and support employees with their mental health and wellbeing, visit https://mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self/resources/