May 10, 2021 • Workplace5 min read

We need to prioritise employee mental health as offices reopen

This Mental Health Awareness Week our People Partner Rosie Hyam talks about the need to prioritise employees' mental health as offices begin to reopen.

Over the past few weeks, we've seen more and more of our customers re-opening their offices after a long period of employees working from home. In fact, we'll be opening our office back up with limited capacity at the end of this month too (government advice-permitting)! And while some of our people are raring to get back to it, it's understandable that others are more apprehensive. That's why we as People Teams and HR need to put employee mental health at the forefront when planning for office returns.

Firstly, it's important to get internal comms about office reopenings right. They should be clear and timely. You should aim to tell managers first and the rest of the company shortly after so everyone is in the know. Whether it's announced in an all-hands meeting or a company-wide email, your colleagues will need to know the following things:

- When is the office reopening?

- Is it mandatory? If not, be sure to make it really clear that employees don't have to come into the office if they feel uncomfortable.

- What are the logistics? For example, are certain teams allowed to come in on certain days? Do employees need to pre-book a desk? Etc.

- What are the measures the company is taking to keep everyone safe?

Good, clear comms are key. Your teams need to know where they stand, and then the rest can follow.

Secondly, making office attendance optional - at least initially - is integral to putting employee wellbeing and mental health first. That's what we're doing. At the end of the day, everyone is different, with different situations, commitments, and concerns. For some the office reopening will be a long-awaited blessing, while for others it may cause anxiety and distress - whether that's to do with safety, social anxiety or any other reason. It's for those people that we need to make a return to the office optional and focus on making worklife more flexible moving forward. After all, the pandemic has proved that we can adapt to new ways of working and that flexibility is more inclusive.

So, with some returning to the office and others not, you'll need to work on creating a successful hybrid environment where no one is left out. That means providing parity in workplace benefits, ensuring that in-person meetings also include video links, and hosting regular check-ins with remote employees to keep track of how they are doing and whether they need assistance.

For those that choose to go back to the office, you can help support their mental health by providing a safe, comfortable environment to reduce COVID-related anxieties. At Just Eat for Business, we're limiting capacity significantly and allocating office days by teams. That way everyone has the opportunity to go into the office on specified days without needing to book a desk in advance and risk not getting one. With communal spaces being off-limits for the time being, getting delivered-in food can also help keep your colleagues fuelled without the hassle and worry of queuing up at a potentially busy supermarket or restaurant at lunchtime.

In addition to getting the logistical side of returning to the office right, there are a few other ways Just Eat for Business has made mental health a priority in the run-up to our office reopening. Firstly, we offered training for several staff members so they could become Mental Health First Aiders. This gives our co-workers an immeditate safe space for conversations about their mental health, with onward advice for long-term help.

Our teams also have access to various platforms dedicated to mental health and wellbeing at work. They can use Unmind to take part in self-guided programmes that help them combat things like stress and anxiety, as well as digital tools to help them relax and unwind in the moment. Then there's Sanctus, which gives our colleagues a space to talk with a coach one-to-one outside of the company. They can use that time to discuss mental health concerns, professional worries or anything else they want to chat about. Finally, we offer an Employee Assistance Programme, which grants access to confidential counselling services, webinars, health check questionnaires and more.

During the pandemic, we also introduced Mental Health Days, which employees can take once a month if they need to. This encourages our colleagues to take care of themselves, while making managers more aware of their colleagues' mental wellbeing. It gives them an opportunity to act and support their team members better from then on.

Finally, mental health awareness has to start from the top. This means that managers need to be having open and honest conversations with each other and their team members about mental health, as well as advocating for people taking breaks and getting their work-life balance right. Checking in with colleagues on a regular basis and really asking how they are - not just superficially - is a great starting point.

In relation to returning to the office, managers should be asking their team members how they are feeling specifically about that situation and helping them to work through anxieties and blockers. Without those conversations there's only so much we can do to help our teams throughout this potentially uncertain time.

Overall, a flexible approach to your office return - and worklife in general - will empower your employees to make their own decisions that are best for their mental health and wellbeing.


If you'd like to learn more about mental health in the workplace, why not check out our resources page here?