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Rahul inhales sharply when he sees an email notification pop up from his CEO with the subject line: “Exciting news about returning to the workplace.” He finishes up his call and places his headset on his desk.
As he reads through the CEO’s email, Rahul thinks about how it will be great to see his coworkers at the call centre again and to have a change of scenery. It looks as though his employer is taking all the precautions mandated by the local government, plus some additional measures. Still, he feels some hesitation, and knows his partner is likely to be concerned about the changes it will mean for their daily routines.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces operated remotely, or closed until public health directives allowed their work to resume. With health restrictions lifting, many workers are being called back to the in-person workplace, which can bring up a number of different feelings. Employers can help ease this transition by having a comprehensive return-to-work plan, and clearly communicating it to workers.
Address anxiety early
During the return-to-workplace planning stages, perform an assessment of the workplace and include potential psychological hazards. Consider establishing a “return to the workplace” or COVID-19 safety committee, including a health and safety committee member or representative. Address as many hazards as possible before the transition period begins. Once workers have begun to return, monitor for the effects of psychological hazards and return anxiety.
Employers can also provide support by encouraging self-care and sharing resources to cope with stressors. Foster an environment where workers are encouraged to take their earned breaks, work at a reasonable pace, and overtime is avoided as much as possible.
Be aware of personal demands on employees such as childcare, eldercare, or family members with health issues. Discuss potential caregiver resources or solutions that can help promote work-life balance. Be sure to underscore the importance of disconnecting from work.
Some hazards may not become obvious until after people return to the workplace. If workers report excessive stress or anxiety, consider pausing or modifying the planned return schedule, or seeking out other support tools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown employers that it is possible to maintain or improve productivity with a remote workforce. Consider asking workers about their work preferences. There may be benefits to ongoing remote work or setting up a hybrid workplace.
Check in regularly
Continue to seek feedback before, during, and after the return-to-workplace transition. What are workers’ main fears and concerns? Ask about how these fears can be addressed and incorporate solutions in the return-to-work plan.
For employees who don’t feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with their manager, provide anonymous feedback options such as a suggestion box, online survey, or speaking with committee or union representatives. You can also monitor aggregate data from employee assistance program service provider reports to see if staff are reaching out for mental health and other supports.
If workers have unaddressed fears or concerns, work together to determine possible solutions.
Communicate changes in advance
How are you keeping workers safe? Communicate your COVID-19 safety measures before returning to the workplace. Review updated work policies and procedures and explain how each safety measure works. Outline any disciplinary measures for those who do not follow procedures and provide reasonable accommodations as required.
Public health guidance changes often. Commit to open communications and frequent updates. Be honest with workers if you do not have the answers to their questions.
Give leaders the tools they need to help
Make sure managers and supervisors know how to recognize psychological hazards and address return anxiety.
Consider investing in leadership training and education. Choose courses or programs that will help them support the mental health and well-being of their teams. Some suggestions include mental health first aid training, or training on active listening and de-escalation techniques.
Explain to managers and supervisors the importance of checking in with their team. Having frequent check-ins can increase positivity, foster trust, and boost psychological safety. These check-ins will in turn support workers’ mental health and workplace well-being.
Use observational, conversational, and listening skills to identify potential psychological hazards and signs of return anxiety. Ask workers about the stressors they experience at work. How are they coping with the transition? Is it affecting their work-life balance, and if so, how?
Acknowledge and follow up on worker concerns or complaints. Be compassionate and understand that workers may be stressed or feel anxious. Recognize challenges and discuss specific strategies that will help them experience a smooth transition. The process should be confidential whenever possible. No diagnosis about a person's state of mental health should be made.
Ease back in and be ready with mental health supports
Plan a gradual return to the workplace to ease anxiety, recognizing that productivity might be reduced as workers get used to the new routine. Clarify priorities and provide guidance on which projects or tasks to focus on, and those tasks that can be postponed.
Make sure workers know how to access supports, such as an employee assistance program. Share and post contact information for local and national mental health support groups, organizations, and programs. If you have concerns that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or domestic abuse, call 911 and/or refer to Crisis Services Canada for guidance.
Tips and Tools
Starting Monday, May 2, you’re invited to celebrate Safety and Health Week with free, live virtual sessions.
Monday, May 2 | 11 am EDT
Join our partners as we kick off Safety and Health Week with inspiring stories and the announcement of the Focus on Safety National Youth Video Contest winners.
Monday, May 2 | 1:30 pm EDT
Join Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate, as he shares his emotional journey from Syria to Canada. His timely message of hope and peace will inspire and strengthen our resolve to make our own impact on the world.
Tuesday, May 3 | 1 pm EDT
Health and safety professionals Stacey Maguire of Glooscap First Nation and Travis Woodworth of Millbrook First Nation will discuss workplace health and safety in Indigenous communities.
Wednesday, May 4 | 1 pm EDT
Improve your focus, lower your stress, and increase your productivity with mental fitness. Pause, relax, and reflect as you exercise your brain and join in a short, guided meditation session.
Thursday, May 5 | 1:30 pm EDT
Join Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley and Janet Mannella as they discuss five steps you can take to positively change your organization’s health and safety culture.
Research shows that workers with disabilities are disproportionately affected by higher poverty and unemployment rates than almost all other sectors.
Effective workplace accommodation practices can play a pivotal role in these workers maintaining quality jobs rather than entering the disability social security system and facing potential obstacles when trying to re-enter the workforce. Building a culture of accommodation and inclusion, with workplace commitment, is recognized as an effective way of maintaining equitable and rewarding employment for all workers.
A new federal initiative seeks to help the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR) support improvements to Return to Work (RTW) and Disability Management (DM) education and delivering Disability Management programs for workers and employers. Towards Excellence in Return to Work / Disability Management Professionalization includes support for RTW/DM continuing education and obtaining DM designations, scholarships, and workplaces to have an assessment completed of their DM programs.
More information can be found at Special Initiative in RTW/DM for Canadian Workplaces.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Day of Mourning: Eugene Gutierrez’ Story
Eugene Gutierrez from Threads of Life joins us to discuss the day his father Bot didn't come home from work, the importance of workplace safety, and how Threads of Life supports families affected by workplace tragedies.
Podcast runs: 12:16 Listen Now
Encore Podcast: New and Young Worker Orientation
Employee orientation is the process of introducing any new worker to the organization, their supervisors, co-workers, jobs, and especially to health and safety. In this podcast we focus on what employers can do to help their new and young workers start a new job on the right foot and stay safe at work.
The podcast runs 8:00 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
The number of older workers in Canada has nearly tripled since 1996. What does this demographic trend mean for organizations that want to keep their workers healthy and safe?
Share this infographic to illustrate why older workers can be beneficial to an organization, and what workplaces can do to ensure that they stay healthy and safe on the job.
For additional information, see our fact sheet on aging workers.
April 28 is the National Day of Mourning, a day to pause, reflect, and renew our commitment to health and safety in the workplace. Plan to take a moment of silence at 11 am to honour workers who have died, were injured, or became ill from their job. Watch or share this video.
You can also show your support and commitment to a safe workplace by sharing these message cards on social media, tagging your posts with #DayOfMourning, and displaying posters. By sharing these messages, you will be helping to remind more people to put health and safety at the forefront of their work and prevent further work-related injuries and loss of life.
Take part in your local Steps for Life walk
Every year, following the Day of Mourning, Threads of Life launches their annual awareness and fund-raising event Steps for Life, across Canada.
Encourage your colleagues, friends, and family to join thousands of walkers across Canada and organize a team to participate in your local Steps for Life walk.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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