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The wave of disappointment that England’s so-called “freedom day” had to be put back for four weeks was inevitable, no matter how necessary the postponement. People were understandably looking forward to the release from various restrictions, taking off their masks and, yes, even getting back into work.

There may have been sighs of relief too, in some HR and facilities departments, as teams working on the big return to work got an extension to the deadline by which everything has to be ready. While restrictions and timeframes obviously differ slightly in the UK’s nations, organisations everywhere have been wrestling with the same issues.

Even simply returning to workplaces that have been largely empty for the past 14 months would have taken some planning, but many companies have been putting the finishing touches to office moves or remodelling to ensure new workspaces are ready for employees to return.

At the same time, HR teams have to make sure that employees are ready for these new workspaces.

As well as getting them up to speed with any necessary Covid-security measures, like social distancing, wearing masks and even testing, employers also have to consider their duty to ensure the health and safety of employees at work.

There are obviously limits to what is “reasonably practicable” for employers to do to ensure a safe working environment. Requiring staff to have been vaccinated before returning, for example, is unlikely to prove legal in most sectors, but encouraging workers to get the jabs to protect themselves and their colleagues would certainly be a positive step.

There are also psychological issues for employers to consider. While some staff may be anxious about coming into work for the first time in over a year, especially if they have an underlying health condition or care for someone who does, others may be struggling with the recent delay that has extended what might have been a long and difficult period of social isolation by another three or four weeks.

Whatever the individual circumstances, it’s clear that the pandemic’s impact on mental health has been widespread and severe.

Offering a counselling helpline that staff can call, confidentially, to discuss any matter of concern to them, is another positive step at the best times. In the current circumstances, such helplines are indispensable.

ARAG's Commercial products includes access to a counselling assistance helpline which is available to employees and their families.

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.


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