Following the most recent Government update in relation to the pandemic, we now know the process back into work will be a gradual process dependant on a number of factors. Some industries will be back quicker than others and one thing is for certain- this isn’t going to happen overnight.

There is a lot for business owners, managers and people leaders to consider over the coming weeks and months; one of which being the mental health of all involved. Here we highlight some of the factors that you may want to consider and be mindful of throughout this process.

Team dynamics will be different to before.

This could be down to changes of the team members who make up the team, due to redundancies; extended furlough; new part time working. Or it could be because people have changed as individuals as a result of changed personal circumstances, family dynamics, or the process of isolation.

All of these things will change someone- for the better or for the worse. Throw in there that people within the workplace will have been away from each other for so long as well. You can be sure in thinking that you will have a different team when you return to work.

Take the time to remind yourselves of models such as Tuckman’s team formation and prepare for the stages as if you are going through them with a new team. Forming, storming, norming and performing. You will pre-empt some of the challenges and be able to adapt your style accordingly, without the frustration you would experience going in with the expectation that things should just be business as usual.

Depending on how much your team are impacted, you may want to consider a team building session, or training as a team- these can all help.

You may still have individuals who are furloughed and so it is important that they don’t get ‘forgotten’ as others return. Take the time to check in on how they are doing. Again furloughed employees can undertake training- this may be a great way of helping them to feel part of the team.

Set clear expectations.

Yes the same goals, objectives, vision and team ethos may remain. But remember differences in expectations are likely to have been set for home working and adaptations due to the pandemic.

Be really clear around what is expected, even if it is just restating what it was before. There may be a tendency in some people to set their own expectations too high- whether this is to prove their self worth if they’ve spent the last few months mixing home working, home schooling and everything else they have had to deal with. Or as a way of trying to stand out from their colleagues.

The danger is that this perfectionism that can stem from unrealistic expectations can lead to shame, negative thoughts and low mood. Now this isn’t to say we don’t aim to achieve high, but be realistic. Providing clarity helps to ensure that your people are not setting unrealistic measures on themselves. A lack of clarity can lead to uncertainty, which can cause stress and trigger anxiety.

A great way of assessing where your team are at right now, and also as a guide for where you may need to provide more clarity would be through completing short pulse surveys. Using providers such as Survey Monkey are a quick and simple way of doing this electronically. Really get into what is concerning people right now whether that be childcare arrangements, new procedures, worry of a second wave, job security- the list goes on. If you know what is concerning you will be able to provide more clarity in these areas.

Don’t miss the opportunity

As we start to move towards phase 1 which is when the level of risk subsides to as we were before Covid 19, take the time to reflect on the benefits you have experienced. The positives and the good that has come. What made you feel valued? What have you enjoyed? What can we learn and take forward and change in terms of the way we operate on a more permanent basis.

Examples may be giving your people a balance of home and office working. In the past we may have been reluctant to try but if it worked- are your people better for it? It will pay off in the long run! And if we don’t grasp the opportunity now to make a difference we probably won’t ever get that opportunity again in our lifetimes. Ask your people what worked for them, and trust them. And if it doesn’t work permanently- you can always pivot.

Take the opportunity to ask your people for their suggestions too. We are away from our norm and this makes people think differently. So tap into their creativity- you never know what nuggets may come up! This will also help people to feel involved and valued. Times of crisis are the best times to build a company culture- people will remember how you stepped up and looked after them.

Acknowledge the differing states of mental wellbeing across your team, including your own.

Those with existing conditions could have deteriorated mental health. Some may have developed conditions in the time away from work. For some people it may have been a really precious time spent with their family; others may have been subject to domestic abuse.

Regular wellbeing check ins with your team could really help here. And we say regular because people’s wellbeing fluctuates on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Just remember to keep the conversation only on wellbeing- not a precursor to discussing performance or other work related discussion.


As part of the home working, some people may have developed a really great wellbeing routine and they’re now thinking ‘how do I fit that in now I’m back at work?’ It is important you are looking out for the signs of burnout to allow for an early intervention to support that individual.

Some of the key signs to look out for of deteriorating mental health would be:

  • Extreme mood changes
  • Tiredness
  • Withdrawal
  • Lapses in concentration
  • Changed eating habits
  • Presenteeism- people working more than their contracted hours or showing up for work when perhaps they shouldn’t be in work. Believe it or not this can be more damaging to your business than absence. Be proactive in ensuring people are getting that work life balance.
A Way Forward

Consider your own skill set. Are you able to ‘just listen’, genuine and effective non-judgemental listening? It may be a great time to involve your people in a review of your workplace wellbeing plan and get their insights and inputs. Paving a new way forward together as a team can be exciting and engaging.

And in all of this be mindful of how you are feeling and how you may have changed as a person. You need to ensure that as a leader or manager that you are in the best place to support others. And the only way to do this is investing time for your own self-care. So be kind, to yourself as well as others.

How we can help you

The range of mental health courses from MHFA England may really help in developing your skills or those of your team around mental health and wellbeing. We would love to hear your ideas and thoughts and take a look at how we may be able to help you! Much of our training offering has now been adapted so we can bring our mental health training online. Please do get in touch to find out how we can help.