Workplace Mental Health

First Day Nerves: Returning to Work During a Pandemic

Anyone else remember how novel it was to work from home (WFH) for those first few days of lockdown? Many of us were casually checking in on friends and family making sure everyone was safe and feeling well, while trying our best to continue to deliver the same level of dedication as in the office, from our dining room tables, the sofa or the ironing board.

On the other side of the coin, 6.2 million staff in England were supported through the coronavirus job retention scheme and a further 2 million self-employed people signing up to the self-employed income support scheme (statistics up to 31st May 2020).

One thing is certain and that’s that we’ve all had to deal with a whole host of challenges and uncertainty over the last three months, whether furloughed or WFH.

Now those early days seem like a distant memory and as the lockdown slowly starts to unfurl we’re now facing more changes, as we are able to return to the office, shops are reopening and we’re able to go out and meet friends and family more regularly (while adhering to social distancing).

But for those of us starting to take our first tentative steps back to the office, what can we expect back at the office? The Government has provided guidelines and made it clear that employers are legally responsible for making workplaces safe for their staff to return to.

Over at Ford, bosses have introduced new ways of checking up on their staff, from a text to check on their health to thermal scanners and wristbands.

We asked our contacts to share how they were making things safe for their teams, as offices and services re-open. Here is what they had to say:

Over at Newark and Sherwood District Council, staff have been sent a survey to find out how they are feeling about the prospect of returning to the office. The council has also completed a corporate risk assessment and site assessments, consulted with Unions and created a suite of resources and video guides for staff and customers, to highlight the changes they will be making and new procedures that will be put in place.

John Robinson, Chief Executive at Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: “It is so important that our staff are kept updated of what we are doing behind the scenes so I have been sharing plans in my weekly update.

“While the world after Covid-19 will be changed, we are taking everything into consideration to ensure our staff are supported in any return to the workplace so they can continue to support the district in the process of rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating the community.”

Cameron Ford, Director at Reflect Recruitment, said: “We’re fortunate to work on a paperless system and our telephones work anywhere so when lockdown began we just took our phones home and have been able to provide our clients and candidates with a near normal service since. 

“Our business is all about people, we’ve really missed seeing them so look forward to reopening.

“We have everything in place and are installing buzzer entry to ensure social distancing, screens at reception, signage for the offices, two metre distancing within the office and some have great branded sanitiser stands, made by a local client.”

Steff Wright, Chairman at Gusto Group said: “In my view the most important thing for business leaders to do prior to returning to work is to reimagine how they can integrate digital technology into their business to enable them to operate safely and in line with the new behaver patterns we are seeing from customers and clients.

“Expecting to continue as before is a recipe for failure, it is a time to be bold and pivot towards improved business models which are more sustainable taking on board all the issues such as climate change, staff health and wellbeing and the black lives matter agenda.”

Carrie Boughtwood, Director at APT Legal (Wills & Powers of Attorney), said: “When lockdown first happened, I was concerned that my clients would not want to deal with matters over the phone or by virtual methods because it is such a personal and sensitive subject.

“I have found, thankfully, that clients have been more than happy to speak to me virtually, but I have found working in lockdown extremely stressful, trying to make sure clients affairs are looked after, but also that we are all keeping safe.

“With the easing of the rules, I am worried that some people will not see the point in keeping a safe distance. However, I will make sure all clients know that I am still keeping the same safety measures in place to ensure that my clients, staff, myself and my family are safe and not put in harm’s way.”

Carrie is not alone in worrying about what the “new normal” will lead to. In a recent story by the BBC, a charity worker from Northern Ireland explained how her panic attacks stopped when the coronavirus pandemic started, but now things are opening up again, her anxiety has returned.

It is clear that as employers and service providers we will need to listen to the needs of our teams and our customers and be open to their input to shape the “new normal”. And while it may take some time to adapt to new procedures and guidelines, we owe it one other to ensure the safe and smart running of our businesses and organisations. After all, we’re still all in this together.

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Work/Life (Off) Balance

I wanted to share some of my more recent/ongoing experiences of mental health so throughout the week I’ve been jotting down a few thoughts on my Google Keep notes app (other note-type apps are available), and what it has inadvertently highlighted to me is that there are many different issues and personal perspectives that I could cover and discuss, and perhaps I may get the opportunity to write another in the future, but this time around I’m going to focus on my work/life balance.

For most, struggling with their work/life balance means that it’s usually weighted more towards one than the other and therefore, needs to be rebalanced. For me it’s a little different. My work life and personal life are actually pretty equal and well balanced, it’s just that right now it seems like I’m not able to give either of them the time and attention they need, and it feels like I’m failing both every single day.

I’m generally quite a positive-minded person, but that constant feeling of failure can be extremely draining and no matter how much sleep I get I never feel re-energised. Not that we get a great deal of sleep at the moment anyway, but I can’t blame that on our sleepless 6-month-old daughter as my wife gets even less sleep than me and still manages to do an amazing job of comforting and feeding our daughter throughout the night and into the following day.

Instead, most nights after the bedtime routine has finished, I’m in my home studio working away on various projects until the early hours of the morning, fuelled by sugary espresso’s and consumed by the need to just DO MORE! For work, for other local projects I’m involved with, for the many passion projects I have in various stages of development, but ultimately to try and provide for my family and earn a living to build a more comfortable life for us all.

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll need to choose one over the other, but if I did, I’m pretty sure my head and my heart would say the same. My family is so very precious to me, especially after we defied the odds (and the doctors) by having two beautiful daughters after being told (more than once) that we wouldn’t be able to have children. So, I want to be present and a part of as much as possible for my daughters and be there to support my wife whenever I’m needed.

Working from home during lockdown got me used to being around them more. Even though I was out in the garage we’ve recently converted to a home studio, I knew they were right there, and I could see and be with them at any time. I would come in every lunchtime and take over so my wife could have a break, or just make lunch so she had one less thing to worry about. I look back at this as one of the few positive experiences from the whole pandemic situation. Going back to work recently meant I had less distractions, but it left me feeling emotionally (not socially) distanced from them.

On the other side of the equation, we all know it’s a very difficult time for many businesses. Not only do I have the pressure of doing everything I can to ensure that Brand Newark can survive and adapt, which we seem to have managed so far, I also feel an over-whelming need to support other local businesses because I know I have the ability to help. Thankfully, a lot of our clients have risen to the challenge and found their own way through to their new normal. Still, this doesn’t stop me wanting to do more, and this is where my internal struggles begin, as I know I could do more but it always seems to be at the expense of losing out on family time, and I can already feel that I’m in danger of letting the balance tip too far in the wrong direction.

This is where my positive, pragmatic, problem-solving brain usually kicks in and comes up with the perfect solution but finding a fix for my daily feelings of failure remains an ongoing process. I realise that I still have so much to be thankful for and will continue to focus on the positives until the perfect balance can be found.

Paul Andrew is the coffee-loving Creative Director of local design and marketing studio Brand Newark, member of the NYP Social Committee and generally a friend to the Newark business community.

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As Brits, we love to rally around a good cause, in fact, according to the Charity Aid Foundation, as a nation, we’ve continued to donate more than £10 billion each year for the last three years to a range of local, national and international charitable causes.

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