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Managing mental health after a return to the office

Socialising with colleagues feels good, but it also has benefits for the business. Working face-to-face with colleagues can both help maintain a good working culture and boost collaboration. But a year of working from and/or furlough has seen many workers coping with social isolation.

mental health after a return to the office

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 a variety of downsides:

  • Feeling less connected to colleagues (67%)
  • Taking less exercise (46%)
  • Developing musculoskeletal problems (39%)
  • 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.

According to Deloitte, 21% of businesses are expecting to return to normal in-person work at their offices, while 68% are considering hybrid models using a mix of virtual and in-person work. It is the responsibility of business owners to consider the challenges of reintegrating employees back into the office safely, sustainably and in a way that benefits wellbeing.

Here we look at managing mental health challenges after returning to the office as told by Craig Bulow, the founder of way Away Days Group.

Encourage socialisation

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.

Connect 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.

Away days

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 teambuilding. 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. By considering what your staff may respond to and gently reconnecting people on a personal level, you could enhance the sense of wellbeing and loyalty of your staff, making for a much healthier working environment.

More on managing staff and mental health for small business owners.