Back to the office and reality: how to support employees
The transition back into ‘normal’ working life may not be easy but there are things firms can do to help, says Elizabeth Rimmer
As restrictions lift, we are transitioning once again to a new way of living and working.
It’s important for employers to support employees back into the workplace (in whatever form that might take) and to bear in mind there is still a great deal of unsettling uncertainty.
The reality is we’re not quite at the finish line yet and we don’t know what the next few months has in store.
Now is the time for senior leaders to step up, share their concerns and acknowledge the difficult time people have had. This will reassure employees that their fears about returning are not isolated and that their wellbeing matters.
One size doesn’t fit all
It’s important to recognise everyone is different, with different needs and feelings about restrictions lifting. Some will want to come into the office, some will want to work at home and the majority will probably want to do a bit of both.
Be alive to common concerns and tailor arrangements to the individual to enable you to get the best out of them. A firm’s greatest asset is its people, so understanding their needs is vital.
Supervision and support
Good line management can help prevent and manage stress; feeling engaged, and engaged with, is crucial to being happy at work.
Over the past year, one of the most cited concerns reported to LawCare’s emotional support service has been a lack of supervision. Managers should make themselves available for regular work-related conversations, whether or not they are in the office – this is vital to keep an eye on how someone is feeling.
Managers must be allowed adequate time to do this. You or your organisation may need additional support or training to provide adequate supervision, or may need to engage a third party, such as a counsellor, for staff working in emotionally difficult areas.
Peer support or mentoring allows colleagues to support one another outside the line-management structure and reverse mentoring – pairing a junior member of staff with a senior leader in the organisation – can be effective.
Flexible working can support healthier, more productive ways of working, leading to increased morale, commitment, productivity and reduced sickness.
However, flexible working enabled many lawyers to squeeze more hours into their working day. Recent research found UK employees who work from home are spending longer at their desks, have bigger workloads, are expected to do more and have increased their working week by almost 25 per cent.
It’s important to encourage those home workers to keep healthy boundaries between work and home – discourage sending emails or contacting colleagues outside of core working hours, for example.
While video technology has kept us in touch during the pandemic, many of us have spent the best part of a year on video calls. It’s important to consider how we use this technology and to recognise that video calls can be draining, and contribute to the feeling of always being ‘on’.
Switching some calls back to the phone cuts down screen time and means employees can get up for a stretch or go for a walk at the same time.
Time off and self-care
Having the time to pursue the things we enjoy and spend time with friends and family is vital to wellbeing, and is even more important currently as social contact was so curtailed during lockdowns.
Encourage everyone to work sensible hours, avoid working weekends, take lunch breaks and annual leave – staff will take cues from how leaders behave.
People need rest and recuperation after busy or stressful periods and teams need to be well resourced to make this happen. This will protect employees from burn-out, enabling them to be resilient and ensure they can do their best work.
Encourage colleagues to be respectful, say hello, say thank you, not raise their voice or threaten each other.
Research shows kindness in the workplace can create a ripple effect that can benefit the whole workplace culture and have a huge impact on positivity towards and general wellbeing.
After the year we have had, showing each other kindness and being kind to ourselves will make the transition much easier and calmer.
Elizabeth Rimmer is CEO of LawCare. LawCare provides a free confidential helpline, email and online chat support for the legal profession, as well as peer support, training, talks and other resources. Visit lawcare.org.uk or call 0800 279 6888.