6 ideas for leading a safe return to work
The world has been rocked by Covid-19. Being able to effectively deal with the fear and anxiety that can flood through an organisation is a key requirement for leaders.
In a time when so much is uncertain, leaders need effective mechanisms to help keep their staff informed, supported and healthy during these stressful times. Here are six ideas for leading a safe return to work:
Make it about the future, not the past. Now is the time to think creatively about the future of the workplace. There is an opportunity to make changes that can improve organisational resilience, enhance the culture and help people to thrive in the workplace. People need a vision of what things will be like moving forward. Paint the vision. Make it real. Give them hope but also be upfront and honest about the challenges. Having a common purpose is vital to engagement.
- Work to people or people to work. What is the learning from the experience of lockdown? How did homeworking work out? Reimaging the workplace takes courage, effort and an appreciation that not everything will be a success. Start by asking 'what if'? Often our ways of working are dictated by precedent and habit. While some practices might still be relevant others will not. Explore what this means for your organisation. Involve your people. Track the outcomes of any changes and take the learning forward into better ways of working. Remember to adhere to any health and safety changes in line with the Government's COVID-secure workplace guidelines.
Encourage a constructive return to work dialogue. Find an opportunity for people to share their experiences from lockdown living. Listen to the concerns as well as ideas for improvements. Can you create discussion hubs to explore suggestions? What are the steps that will make people feel safer, more in control and able to thrive? Check out the tips and resources offered by the CIPD, including a free downloadable return to work planner.
Be prepared to listen. When there is so much to get done, it can be tempting to carry on working when someone wants to tell you something or needs your view. Nothing is more discouraging or discourteous. Instead, put down other activities and focus on listening. Ask open questions to encourage further dialogue. You will improve empathy and demonstrate your respect for that person. For more communication tips and suggestions for questions to ask staff, see Engage for Success.
- Treat people like adults. Tell them about the difficulties that you and the organisation face. It isn't easy but giving them an insight into the issues, demands, as well as the opportunities, will help. Maybe consider inviting a non-executive from the board to listen to concerns, answer questions and talk to them about the expectations they have of the business. Invite people to speak up. It demonstrates inclusion and shows respect.
- Model self-care. Being a change agent through difficult times can be exhausting and lonely. Don't forget to be on your side. Look after your wellbeing and mental health as doing so will have a positive impact on your ability to deal with challenging situations. Being seen to take care of yourself will also encourage those you lead to do the same. Make staff wellbeing a priority. Be a champion for the relevant actions to ensure that it is taken seriously across the organisation. Check out the resources offered by the mental health charity, Mind.
No one knows for sure what the future holds, and it is only natural for people to worry. The latest research from the CIPD found that four in ten people are anxious about returning to work. As a leader, you can channel that energy into purposeful action. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve, facilitate a safe return to work and be open to feedback. Act now and help your people see that they can contribute to creating a healthy and robust future for all.