Supporting your team when they return to work
Our Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, Ezra Hewing offers some advice on how to support your team after lockdown
As lockdown lifts you may have concerns and questions about members of your team returning to work. Are members of your team anxious about coming back to the office? Are they worried about increased risk of infection? Are they juggling work and childcare? Have some of your team been furloughed and perhaps feel that their job skills are bit rusty?
Everyone’s situation and concerns will be different and so it’s worth having a conversation with each team individually. To handle conversations sensitively, at Suffolk Mind we teach and use a framework called RIGAAR. Participants learn the skills to use RIGAAR on our Workplace Wellbeing course Supporting Staff Mental Health for Managers, but you can use some of the same principles when supporting staff who are returning to work after lockdown.
RIGAAR is acronym which stands for the elements of a supportive conversation: Rapport, Information, Goals, Accessing resources, Agreeing a strategy and Review.
- Always build rapport and reconnect with team members as an essential first step. Remember that they may feel disconnected from the workplace
- Before asking about their concerns or talking about work, take time to find out how they have been and what has happened since you last spoke
- Ask follow up questions to express empathy and encourage them to talk more
- Ask open questions to allow your team member to talk about how they are feeling and what concerns they might have
- You could encourage them to complete an emotional needs audit which will identify emotional needs which might be better met
- If you feel comfortable and confident doing so, you might ask about how lockdown has affected their ability to exercise or sleep. You might mention that many people have found it difficult to get decent sleep during lockdown, which can help to normalise their experiences
- Agree small, achievable goals to help them meet emotional needs. If they need privacy and ‘time out’, encourage regular breaks; if they have told you they feel better after taking exercise, encourage walking during lunch time
- Give your team member as much control as is reasonable over how they manage conflicting concerns; when they return to the office and whether they can work from home some of the time; how they manage the conflicting demands of childcare and work. Letting people decide for themselves empowers them to meet the need for control – especially when so much is out of our control at the moment!
- Ask questions to identify what has helped your team member cope during lockdown
- Ask them about what they have learnt during lockdown and if there are good habits they want to keep for the future
- Mention their past work achievements and what they bring to the team and the wider workplace
Agreeing a strategy
- Agree the steps they will take to achieve goals which meet their needs
- Make sure they draw upon the resources you have identified, including coping skills, good habits and previous work successes
- Make sure they have time and space to achieve those goals. This may include time to take breaks and walks, and to manage the demands of childcare and home life
Finally, review what has been discussed and agree a regular check in time to see how the strategy is going. Discuss what they have learned, and make any adjustments which better support meeting needs as your team returns to the workplace. Keep a record of what has been agreed and return to it the next time you meet – always taking time to connect and build rapport first!
Author: Ellie Winch