Handling employee anxiety when returning to work

Peninsula Team

May 29 2020

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The coming months will see businesses and employees return to the workplace. One issue organisations may have to handle is that employees will have a degree of anxiety about returning to work.

This, of course, is understandable. But where does your business stand when it comes to getting employees back to the workplace?

Anxiety among employees

The time will come when you ask employees to return to work. In preparation, you'll need to take the necessary precautions to ensure the health & safety of your staff in your workplace. That should ensure their return to work once they have no legitimate reason for not doing so.

Yet, many may still be anxious. Some employees may have reduced access to childcare. Others may have underlying medical conditions that you need to consider. The only way to deal with staff anxiety is to communicate with each employee and examine their circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Risk of discrimination

The return to work needs to be handled carefully. If not, it could produce employment equality claims under various grounds. For instance, you'll notify your employees that they’re expected back at work. Should you withhold the salaries of those who refuse to return, it may be indirectly discriminatory. Employees with health conditions, employees who cohabit with people with health conditions and employees without access to childcare may also have legitimate reasons not to return to work.

How to reduce employee anxiety

The first way to reduce employee anxiety is to make your workplace as safe as possible. Show your employees that you’ve complied with advised health & safety measures before reopening. Doing so will go a long way to alleviating any concerns they may have before returning to work.

There may be employees who have an issue with returning to work as requested. If so, it will be important to listen to their concerns and to handle any requests they make sensitively. It’s an uncertain time for many employees who may have difficulties with childcare, eldercare or underlying medical conditions.

These concerns can cause significant anxiety for many employees and should be handled with compassion. To accommodate such employees, flexible arrangements such as working from home should remain in place.

Time to communicate with employees

Reopening is your number one priority. Before doing so, communicate with your employees to ensure you address their concerns. As public helplines are available to staff who do have concerns regarding the safety of the workplace, it’s important to adopt all mandatory measures to safeguard employee wellbeing.

On the other hand, if employees refuse to return to work without a legitimate reason, you may need to take disciplinary action.   

How an Employee Assistance Programme can help

In these uncertain times, the support provided by an Employee Assistance Programme could prove valuable to employers when returning to work.

These support services provide independent counselling for employees who have any personal concerns that they don’t want to raise directly with their employer. In a time of great change, this individual support could be invaluable to both staff and business owners.  

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