12 Oct 2021

Employers must be mindful of ‘Returnism’ and support employee mental health




With World Mental Health Day[i] on 10th October, Adrian Lewis Commercial Director at Activ People HR is urging businesses to be mindful of their employees’ mental wellbeing and particularly as they return to the office.

A survey by McKinsey in June highlighted that whilst many people welcome the return to on-site work, one-third said their return to work has had a negative impact on their mental health. Also, almost half of those who have not yet returned to the office anticipate negative mental health impacts.

Adrian Lewis says, “Furlough ended in September and more people are returning to the workplace, even if it’s just for a few days a week. For some, going back to the office and returning to pre pandemic life can cause mental anguish.

“Many have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic and may have suffered poor mental health. Others may be fearful of Covid safety measures on public transport and in the office. Also meeting colleagues face to face can cause anxiety, especially those that were recruited remotely and have only ever interacted over Teams or Zoom.

“Whatever people’s individual circumstances, we encourage employers to be aware of the impact the pandemic may have had on their staff and have additional measures in place to address any mental health concerns and offer support where needed.”

The Mental Health Foundation[ii] has also highlighted what they call ‘Returnism’ – the impact that resuming after lockdown will pose to people’s mental health. They say the pandemic has led to major changes to people’s work circumstances and work-life balance, including the relationships people have at and with work and plans and their future aspirations.

Suggestions for how to support staff returning to work include involving staff in the planning to return; being compassionate around individual circumstances; making sure people are taking annual leave and recovery time, consider flexible or hybrid working and equipping line managers with skills to have conversations about mental health.

Adrian adds, “We also recommend employers use technology to monitor sickness absence as this is a proven way of spotting mental health issues.

“Absence management technology enables managers to spot patterns such as someone having more time off sick than usual. This can prompt them to have a conversation with that staff member and find out if they are having any issues.

“Managers can then signpost mental health support services. Equally managers will be able to see if people are taking all their allocated holiday leave and if someone isn’t they can encourage them to do so or at least find out why.

“All of these measures can help employees as they return to work and ensure minimal impact on the business in terms of rising absenteeism. We’ve all been through an unprecedented 18 months so it’s important for employers to remember this and not just think everything is returning to normal and employees are coping well.”

For more information on absence management software visit www.activabsence.co.uk

[i] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day

[ii] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/going-back-work-environment