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Back to normal?

By Julia Calleja, Business Development Lead at LiveWell Dorset

HR return to work policies assist with the reorientation of an employee after a long-term absence such as sickness or maternity leave.

People management teams are used to thinking ahead and now is the time to start planning and preparing for the return to work of employees who have been furloughed or home-based during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In either situation, staff will have been affected by a number of issues relating to their long-term absence from their physical workplace. It took them time to adjust and come to terms with new norms. Therefore, it stands to reason that they will need time to readjust, before they can reach pre-Covid-19 productivity [and once more work at full capacity].

Companies who have maintained regular contact with their staff will be at an advantage.

What are the issues?

Lockdown has given UK workers a lot of thinking time. Some employees may have re-evaluated their job satisfaction or assessed how their company has looked after them through all this uncertainty. Inevitably, some may have come to the conclusion that they need to make a change. 

Much has been said of the state of people’s mental health during the pandemic, but what does this mean for returning employees? Wellbeing we know, is the combination of functioning well (being in good physical health) and feeling good (positive attitude and resilience).

Those already interested in health and fitness may have used their allocated exercise time to keep fit. Whereas, those less naturally inclined to exercise and healthy eating, may have experienced a period of inertia and poor nourishment. 

Where the routines and rhythms of life are disturbed, this may lead to irregular eating and sleeping patterns. Similarly, when social demands are no longer present, lacklustre personal hygiene, which ‘in the outside world’ correlates to a lack of self-respect and discipline, may result.

Bad habits, disguised as coping mechanisms, have crept up on people over the past couple of months. Those looking for comfort through food, smoking or alcohol may have a hard job to quit these new habits [overnight] when required to ‘return to normal’.

We cannot appeal to our work teams on the basis that we have all been in this together and consider it as a shared experience. Each individual will have experienced it differently. There may have been financial instability for those furloughed and concerns over job security for others. The challenge of living in total isolation or in confinement in a noisy family group cannot be diminished. We need to acknowledge the impact on each individual.


Throughout the lockdown, we have all been taught a fear of crowds and warned of the risks of contracting a deadly disease. Some may hold onto this fear of contracting germs from others and this may even manifest itself in a general distrust of people. People management teams have to plan how they will prepare employees to return to the workplace, which may well be an open-plan, hot desking environment where equipment is shared and space may be at a premium.

The workforce may require gradually desensitising – beginning with attendance at small gatherings, to increase their comfort level, before feeling ready to attend larger events comfortably again.

A phased return to work

1.      Start now if you have not already, by having some 1-2-1s with your staff. Find out on a personal level how they have been finding things, what has changed for them and crucially, what they think the main consideration will be for them returning to work

2.      Communicate the company’s plans for resuming business ‘as usual’

3.      Find ways to connect work teams ahead of physically bringing them together

4.      Plan to repopulate the workplace team by team

5.      Offer individuals the opportunity of a phased return – starting on shorter hours and building back up to a normal working week

6.      Consider incremental productivity targets and deadlines during the resettlement period. Empower rather than delegate with measurable and agreed responsibilities. Consider temporary work readjustment or redesign

7.      Action planning – how will the work team look out for each other’s wellbeing going forward? Wellbeing Champions or a Buddying system perhaps? Do you need to consider revising existing processes or adopt new person-centred routines?

8.      Consider how individuals prefer to transition through change, at their own pace. Be prepared to be patient and mindful of individual needs as you seek to turnaround learned helplessness into a state of empowerment and personal control

LiveWell have designed some sessions to support employers and staff to ease the workforce back into the workplace, in the form of departmental group coaching, workshops for HR and management teams, and 1-2-1 support for individuals struggling to readjust.

This article was first published on LinkedIn 23/4/20

Join LiveWell on Wednesday 6th May at 9:15am BST (9:30am start) for a FREE 30 minute presentation exploring the challenges we all face in finding our way back to ‘normal service’.

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