COVID-19 wellbeing hub. Returning to Work During COVID-19

Hospitality businesses aren’t far off from the day they will be able to re-open. In England, the date put forward by government is 4 July, although operators are still awaiting more guidance. In Northern Ireland, it’s 3 July. In Scotland, it’s likely to be 15 July. There is no official date yet in Wales.

While some of us may be eager to get back, for others, this will cause great stress. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2018/19, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost. These numbers will likely rise as we adjust to our ‘new normal’ and re-emerge into society.

Many things may cause anxiety during and in the aftermath of a pandemic and you may find yourself feeling down, anxious, panicked, tired or overwhelmed. These are all completely normal responses. However, that does not mean you must suffer. Anticipating these responses means we also have the chance to put in place some measures now to combat them should they arise.

Let’s look at how you can minimise any negative effects on your wellbeing and what employers can do to make the transition back into work as stress-free as possible for their people.

What individuals can do

If you are anxious about returning to work and adapting to this new way of life, rest assured that this anxiety is entirely normal. It is so commonplace in fact, that there is a term for it: re-entry anxiety.

Although these feelings may be normal, that does not mean they should be downplayed or are any less significant. The good news is that there are some measures you can take as an individual to lessen any stress or worry you may be feeling in regards to returning to the workplace.

Consider your commute. Can you alter your commute to minimise your time on public transport? Many of us are feeling anxious about returning to public transport - a busy, closed place. If you are able to walk or cycle to your workplace this may be a better alternative. If you must use public transport, try altering your route to minimise the number of changes you need to make, also consider getting on or off a stop or a few early to lessen your time on the service. It may be useful to see if you can change your work pattern to avoid rush hour.

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Take hygiene measures. Ensure you keep up good levels of personal hygiene, especially after having been on public transport or before interacting with customers. Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and make sure your hands are properly dry afterwards. You should always carry some antibacterial gel for when you cannot get to a sink. Keep a packet of antibacterial wipes so that you can regularly wipe down your work area. Keeping up these kind of measures is one of the most effective things you can do to keep yourself and others safe.

Learn some calming techniques. Unfortunately, it is very likely many of us will undergo periods of anxiety once we return to work. You may feel overwhelmed, tired or even a little frightened as we re-adjust to life after lockdown. An excellent calming technique that you can do anywhere is simply to breathe. A simple breathing method to use when you are feeling overwhelmed is box breathing. Make sure you are sitting comfortably and upright. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this until you feel calmed. Visit Hospitality Action’s online wellbeing platform, Well-Online, for more resources on relaxation techniques.

 

Acknowledge how you are feeling. It is important that you work out what is causing you discomfort so that you can begin to address these issues. Whenever you are feeling anxious, it may be useful to jot down what sparked this response. For example, maybe it is the influx of a large group of guests or an unexpected spill or breakage that requires dealing with that is making you anxious. This focus allow you to seek advice on dealing with specific aspects of your anxiety, making them easier to address. Learning your particular anxieties and expressing them can also be a great tool on its own in helping you manage them. Talk with your employer. Your employer should be transparent with you regarding the transition back to ‘normal’ and you should express any concerns you have. Let them know if you are anxious about your commute, or not sure how you will distance in your usually crowded workplace, ask them if it possible for you to change your shift times or perhaps continue working at home if you can. It is always important to air any concerns or questions you have. Your employer cannot make the changes needed to support you if they are not aware of them.

Get support. If the re-entry anxiety you are feeling is beginning to significantly affect your life and wellbeing, seek help. You can visit your GP and explain to them the difficulties you are having, they will then be able to source the relevant help for you. Alternatively, Hospitality Action is here for you 24/7 and will be able to support you through this difficult time.

What can employers do?

The health and safety measures that companies take as their employees return to the workplace can be the deciding factor in levels of psychiatric effects on employees. Employers can help staff feel confident by installing prevention measures.

Hygiene. Place antibacterial gel and wipes in the workplace for workers as well as customers. Surfaces should be cleaned and sanitised regularly. Deep cleaning will be required to an increased standard, with regular disinfecting of shared areas. High traffic contact zones – for example door handles and toilets – will need wiping down with an antibacterial cleaner frequently throughout the day. All areas – both those occupied by customers and workstations – should be kept clutter free so that cleaning is easier. If it would be of benefit to employees – especially those in customer facing roles – then protective screens should also be installed and workplaces should be well ventilated.

 

Adhere to social distancing. There must be adequate room throughout your workspace for employees and guests to remain at least two metres away from each other wherever possible under current guidance. Employers should also look at how both employees and customers move around both private and public areas of the business. It may be useful to implement a one-way walking system in walkways or stairwells. Make sure regularly shared places - kitchens and bathrooms for example - permit social distancing measures.

Allow for flexibility. If it is possible, you should give your employees the opportunity of changing their work patterns. This allows them to avoid rush hour during their commute and to minimise the number of staff in your workplace at one time. You should also allow those who can work at home to continue to do so.

Be open and communicate with your team. Make sure they know the things you are putting in place to ensure their safety. This will give them confidence in returning to work. Make sure you encourage your team to communicate any concerns with you. It is important that they feel their concerns are heard and action is taken. There could be certain aspects of work, or areas on your premises that could cause tension such as: client arrival and reception areas, ordering, accidents and breakages and how to deal with them, delivery drivers, dealing with the bill. If time permits, consider putting a poll or survey out to your team to ascertain widespread concerns, you can then address these directly before returning to the workplace. Consider having a floorplan of your workspace drawn up and indicate any changes you have made on this plan and highlight ‘hot spots’ such as kitchens.

Mental health. Keep mental health at the front of your concerns along with physical health. This re-emerging period is going to be one of great uncertainty and this can cause a lot of stress and unrest in people. Make sure you are implementing procedures and policies which protect the mental health and wellbeing as well as physical health of your staff in your plans to re-emerge your team into the workspace.

Additional resources