After a much longer period of time than expected for most people, employees are now returning to the office setting. When most employees started working from home, they expected it to last a few weeks or a few months, but not for a year and a half. Because of this, working from home became the regular for most employees, and individuals adapted to their new normal and established routines. Now, many workplaces are welcoming employees back into the office. With this being said, employee mental health is going to be really important to focus on for workplaces. There are different things employers can do for their employees as they transition back into the office:
- Know the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. Education is an important first step for many workplaces. Simply educating people in leadership roles on mental health and mental illness is a step in the right direction. The more employers know about mental health conditions, the better they will be in noticing when an employee is struggling.
- Have open and honest conversations. To break down the stigma associated with mental health conditions in the workplace, employers need to be willing to have open and honest conversations with their employees. Asking open-ended questions is a good place to start. If employers have noticed any sort of mental health conditions symptoms in their employees, it is important to check in on that individual. Simply acknowledging what they have noticed and then asking them something along the lines, “What is going on?” is a good first step. Open-ended questions allow for the individual to truly explain how they are feeling and what is going on. In having these types of conversations, an employer should be empathetic and listen without judgment, but also know they should not be the one to try and fix whatever the employee is going through. There are trained professionals who are meant to do that, but sometimes all a person needs is someone to listen and employers could be that listening ear for them.
- Offer flexibility when possible. Transitioning back into the office setting is going to produce a lot of different feelings for each person. Some people will be excited while others will be stressed and anxious. It is important for workplaces to take this into consideration and to do their best to be accommodating. Just like employees had to adapt to working from home and now adapt to working into the office again, workplaces must adapt to the different emotions and feelings employees are going to have.
- Take care of every employee, including the ones in leadership. Mental health is something that every person has. So, as mentioned above, it is really important for employers to focus on the mental health needs of their employees, but that includes every single employee. Workplaces cannot forget to also take care of the employees who work in leadership roles. It is just as important that the president of a company or a vice president is taking care of their own mental health as well. Workplace culture truly starts from the top and if the individuals who are in leadership roles are not taking care of their mental health, then they are not going to be able to help other employees nearly as well.
The transition back to working in the office is going to be a challenge for many employees, but workplaces have the opportunity to make the transition a little bit less difficult. One way employers can do this is by talking about the mental health needs of their employees. By having more open and honest conversations, employees will begin to feel like they can ask for the help that they need, and the work culture will be one of hope and encouragement.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profit organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.