The end of 9 to 5? Mental health in the workplace post-lockdown

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As lockdown restrictions ease and a gradual return to the workplace begins, employees across the economy are expressing a desire to change their working patterns. Many are not comfortable with the prospect of commuting by public transport and returning to busy office environments. The potential impact on mental health will be an important issue for employers to address as they plan for the ‘new normal’.

Digging deeper, the majority of concerns centre around the ability to maintain social distancing, the cleanliness of transport and workplaces and the loss of an improved work-life balance which has been discovered by some during lockdown. Managing open plan workspaces and communal areas, such as kitchens and receptions, will play a significant part in the logistical planning of employers to reassure their staff. Attitudes towards staff coming into work with ailments such as the common cold may also require HR teams to issue new guidance on procedures regarding staff illness.

Naturally, businesses will want to ensure that their employees feel safe when returning to work and, for some, this may involve implementing new policies and flexible systems to support staff, some of whom may have been personally affected by the pandemic. However, despite the anxieties that may be generated by the easing of lockdown, many employers see this as the opportunity to change their working environments and practices for the better.

Flexible arrangements which combine home-working with time in the office may be one option that could be mutually beneficial for employers and employees alike.  It is likely that a number of employees will make requests for flexible working in the future, either informally or formally, and therefore it makes a good deal of sense to get ahead of this and review what arrangements are likely to work best for your business and your staff going forward.

In recent years, the issue of mental health in the workplace has rightly received greater attention and a more proactive response from employers. The impact of the pandemic in this regard will present new challenges and, however businesses choose to address the situation, there is little doubt that the changes in working practices brought about by COVID-19 are here to stay.