Helping people back to work

Your colleagues have been shielding because of underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable than most people to COVID-19. They were advised to follow the Government’s guidance for their own personal safety, physical and mental wellbeing. Although people who have been shielding may be feeling pleased to see colleagues again and getting back to some sort of normality, they may be feeling apprehensive to return to work and still worried about their safety, or they may be feeling guilty as they haven’t been able to support the team effort like they would usually. Each person will react differently to coping with the new challenges that being in a workplace will bring after shielding for over one year.

This guide will help you consider how you can help support them to re-join you in the workplace. It is available as a pdf here.

Walk in their shoes: We are all different and need different things. You know your colleagues best. Try and imagine what it has been like for them to have been shielding and how coping with the threat of COVID as a vulnerable person might feel like. Now think about what would make their transition back to work more comfortable. Now ask yourself, what will you do to help welcome them back.

Welcome them back: It is likely that you haven’t seen your colleagues properly, if at all, since before they began shielding. Take some time to welcome them back into the workplace and let them know that you are there to support them. Talking helps, so if you know them well and have a trusting relationship, you may want to ask them what it was like to shield, how they are feeling about returning to work, and what you can do to help them.  Keep checking in on them to let them know you care. The important thing to remember is that underlying cause of their vulnerability to COVID has not gone away.

Be flexible and supportive: It is likely that colleagues who have been shielding will need extra flexibility and reassurance of the safety of the workplace environment. This could mean that certain colleagues who are more at risk need to work a little more flexibly at first and employers may need to make *reasonable adjustments to accommodate the individual risk that COVID brings to people who have been shielding. This may involve making changes to work patterns, flexibility for home working, staggered starting times for work etc. Having an on-going dialogue with the employee about their concerns and fears will make them feel reassured that they are being cared for as a valued contributor to your workforce.

Keep the workplace safe: All employers have a legal duty of care to employees. It is important to remain attentive to keeping the workplace a safe place to work and to encourage all the workforce to follow guidelines. This will demonstrate to your colleagues who have been shielding that they are in a safe place as they transition back into their role at work. It may be helpful to have a designated person with whom the employee who has been shielding can rise any concerns or fears about the workplace environment.

The benefits of a supportive work environment

One of the most significant factors that can impact an employee’s productivity is their job satisfaction and level of happiness at work.  A happy and supported employee is much more motivated at work.  Research has shown that there are significant benefits of increased productivity, creativity, reduced turnover and an improved bottom line.

Please see this article: The many upsides of a happy workforce – BBC Worklife

The Equality Act

*Note that employers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 where someone has a disability. Employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable are extremely likely to qualify as disabled under the Equality Act and many employees who are otherwise considered vulnerable may do so as well.

CIPD recommendations

CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development, recommends when home working is not possible, the three key tests for employers to ask before bringing people back to the workplace are: is it essential; is it sufficiently safe; and is it mutually agreed.

Read more at Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to the workplace guide | CIPD

Posted 18th May 2021