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Go easy on employees as they go back to the office

The government is lifting its guidance to work from home, and people are nervous. The Covid threat is still there, and being told to live with it doesn’t make it any easier for those who feel anxious about being back in work.

The way leaders approach the return to work will have a big impact on how quickly people settle back into a routine – or not. It’s important to take the whole of the last 16 months into account when you have someone in front of you and be very mindful that what you’re asking – however simple it may seem – could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

People have been working hard during lockdown and they’re exhausted. Working patterns have been disrupted and work has been fitted in around personal commitments, often in unsuitable working environments. That’s not going to go away overnight. Accept that it’s unlikely that people will turn up to work bright eyed, fresh and ready for change when they’re already on the cusp of burnout. Even those who want to be back in the office are emerging from over a year of difficult circumstances, and it’s difficult to adjust.

It’s very important to create an open, welcoming environment where people feel supported. A lot of people lost their jobs and those who didn’t are terrified they’ll be next. During any other time, if a person had experienced so much ongoing stress for such a sustained period of time, it would have been flagged and they’d be receiving help. But with everyone in the same boat we’ve all been expected to just take it on the chin, and we have to get away from that mindset.

Our mental and physical health hasn’t experienced such a collective battering in our working lifetime. This isn’t something we can sweep under the office carpet.