The crisis has drastically altered our way of living, working and behaving in society. Confinement, compulsory remote working, isolation, short-time working, and family life have turned upside down, constant fear of being contaminated... these many situations have amplified psychosocial risks, particularly for employees.
The latest studies on this subject have revealed a worrying statistic: 44% of French employees are experiencing psychological distress due to confinement.
Now we are preparing ourselves to turn around and face the reality of returning to the office. This reality however, is not the normality that we knew before the crisis. It comes with a fear of being contaminated by the virus, the stress of these recent months and apprehension from having to re-adapt to new ways of doing things, or frustration at the idea of losing some of the benefits of working from home.
So how should companies act? What tools and methods should be implemented to support employees as they return to work?
Understanding and anticipation
It is important to anticipate the situation, this means understanding what needs to be assessed, i.e. what are the psychosocial risks. Psychosocial risks (or PSR) are factors that harm the mental, physical and social health of employees within the work environment. These can include stress, discontent, harassment, burnout and even violence at work.
Their causes can be due to working conditions, organisation of work and relationships at work.
PSRs are therefore a consequence of a person's interaction with their work environment. Depending on the environment where they work, someone can be happy, full of energy and fulfilled, or on the contrary they can be worn out, stressed and unenthused.
A PSR assessment looks first of all at the perceptions and feelings of the person in the situation, their way of managing stress and what their work means to them.
In these recent weeks, some may have felt a loss of meaning, others may have questioned themselves.
Some have discovered and enjoyed a completely new field of interest as they have been assigned to different activities than usual.
Others, conscious of the human impact of this situation, may have questioned their own usefulness and felt the need to give their life a more human dimension and a feeling of doing something good.
Why not take the opportunity of returning to work to give your employees the chance to develop this thinking and (re)discover what is really meaningful for them. There are specific self-assessment tools that help to identify environments and activities where your employees can flourish and find their professional raison d'être. Your employees can take these tests online, on a completely voluntary basis and even confidentially if desired. (see the MyLab offer from Central Test)
This is about understanding the PSRs that your employees are exposed to, by defining and measuring them. You may not even know it but a wealth of information is available in your company. It is up to you to seek it out and make use of it.
There are two types of indicators to analyse: those that are measurable, which you can objectively quantify, and perception indicators to do with employees' experiences, where the measurements will be less objective.
Among the quantifiable indicators to do with how the company operates, organisation and working conditions, we can include working hours, absenteeism, pay, staff turnover, organisational performance, important changes, etc.
Perception indicators for employees' experiences are a strong sign of the existence of PSRs but seem more difficult to measure.
Central Test offers tools that help to analyse PSRs. These are recommended for measuring perception indicators from the employees themselves, through internal surveys, pre-recorded video interviews or stress related assessment questionnaires. Of course there is no miracle cure. Every company is unique and each problem identified should be dealt with in its own way.
Communicating and reassuring
Although companies are mostly continuing to operate remotely, it may be a good idea to start preparing for the return. This gives you time to think about the best ways of going about it and to reassure your employees and help them to prepare while limiting the stress.
It is important to be sensitive to your employees' experience during this time and to their questions about life 'after'. You can ask employees about the following aspects and give them time to think about their answers:
How have these recent weeks been for you? What have been the good and bad aspects? What are your expectations for returning to work?
Talking about it can be liberating and will help some people to share an experience that may have been tough on them during this period. Others may see this as an opportunity to give some sense to this situation. This should help to give you ideas for what actions to implement and to understand your employees' state of mind as they return to work. Being there to listen to them will reassure them and they will feel they are being listened to and supported.