Planning A Psychologically Safe Return to the Workplace

Adapted from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

Note: This photo was taken pre-COVID-19

It’s been said many times, but we’ll say it again: working in the pandemic is not business as usual.

Whatever your job, chances are you have had to make some adjustments. For many, that adjustment was moving the workplace to your kitchen table or home office. And it wasn’t an easy feat. Despite all obstacles, we’ve navigated through Zoom meetings, noisy households and working in sweatpants (okay, that one might not be so bad).

So, if talk of returning to the workplace is stirring up anxiety for you and your staff – you’re not alone. In fact, it is completely normal and expected. We will all experience a range of emotions as we navigate returning to campus, remain working remote, or explore a hybrid work model.

The good news is that you can ask for help and take proactive steps to support yourself and your staff as we all navigate this change. Creating a mentally healthy transition back to the workplace requires acting from a place of compassion and taking steps to ensure your staff feel supported, heard, and know the resources available to them to help navigate this transition.

A psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that promotes employees’ well-being and actively works to prevent harm to employees’ mental health. Building a supportive work environment that promotes mental well-being is a shared responsibility. (Source: Guarding Minds at Work, 2018)

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Build trust. Always maintain integrity and confidentiality. At every opportunity, share information with your teams about the plans in progress, and ask them to share their feedback and concerns with you. Where possible, share your own concerns as well and how you are coping personally.
  • Give time to talk. If you have only one or two employees at a time, overlap their shifts by a few minutes to encourage employees to talk to each other, and to you. This way, your team members know they are not alone in their concerns.
  • Encourage participation. Ask your employees to participate in the decision-making process. You can recruit a committee or send out an anonymous survey for those who are not comfortable speaking during virtual meetings.
  • Be specific. When sharing plans, provide as much detail as you can. Staff will feel safer if you can provide specific information based on the latest research evidence. Include hyperlinks to the actual research.
  • Respect privacy. Where some individuals have had private conversations with you, be sure not to disclose this during larger meetings. It is a breach of confidentiality to disclose an employee’s mental health status or personal accommodation requests. When talking to members of your staff, avoid asking if they are struggling with their mental health, and instead ask if there are any problems that are interfering with their work, or if they will be able to perform all the essential duties of their job.
  • Educate employees. Just because you ‘get it’ does not mean other staff do. Ensure your team and workplace are educated on mental health concerns related to COVID-19 and know how to access professional supports if they wish.
  • Be positive: Create morale-boosting measures where possible, such as online team-building exercises, virtual games (did someone say trivia?), or a place for staff to share lighthearted thoughts, photos and articles.
  • Be proactive: Take the time to talk about the importance of employee mental health. This paves the way for open conversation and shows your team that their wellbeing is a priority for you. Know, and understand, that you are part of your employees’ support network.

Adapted from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

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