What employees want (and need) from the post-pandemic workplace

Many employees are nervous about heading back to the office, so what's their ideal situtation?

As some organisations move back to the office, a new study has found that employees want new things from their post-pandemic workplace like more flexibility and mental health days. However, staff also need more support from managers to improve their work/life balance and ease stress.

According to research gathered by workplace firm, Instant Offices, 60% of UK workers would only feel comfortable returning to the office once everyone has been vaccinated.

With a majority of the workforce having worked remotely for over a year, it’s vital that employers manage any transition to office-based working, whether full-time or hybrid, in a way that reduces presenteeism and boosts mental wellbeing, which could lead to greater talent retention.

Why are employees nervous?

The findings from the Government agency Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveals the top reasons why workers are nervous about heading back to the office:

  • Social distancing: 60%
  • Workplace safety: 56%
  • Workplace cleanliness: 55%
  • Spreading illness to family or friends: 45%
  • Being away from family: 16%

These findings suggest that fear of catching the virus is the major reason why employees are nervous about working in an office; another statistic (that 16% are nervous about being away from family) could indicate that several employees, possibly including those with caregiving responsibilities like working mothers, may face more pressure juggling a commute and an office-based role after a year of remote working.

What do they want from the post-pandemic workplace?

HSE also surveyed the most popular requests for workplace adjustments among staff, giving insight into what employers could do to ensure staff wellbeing and retention. The findings back up widespread pre-existing research that employees increasingly want flexibility.

  • Flexible hours: 59%
  • A 4-day working week: 45%
  • Fewer people in the office: 37%
  • Fewer meetings: 33%
  • Mental health days: 32%

These findings suggest that a hybrid and flexible hours work model could benefit staff who are nervous about returning to an office environment and would certainly benefit employees with caregiving responsibilities and long-term illnesses requiring more flexible hours for medical appointments.

Another option could be to introduce a booking system long-term for hybrid office environments, which are capped each day to ensure offices aren’t overcrowded.

Another interesting finding is the 33% who wanted fewer meetings; this could be an opportunity for management to investigate the productivity of frequent meetings and either cut them down or change their structure to make them more time-efficient.

It isn’t surprising that 45% of respondents want a four-day working week; according to a 2019 survey by UK office rental space firm, Workthere, 24% of staff said Tuesday was their most productive day of the week compared to Friday (5%) that was the least. With employees increasingly searching for a greater work/life balance and job-related wellbeing, a four-day week could ensure more consistent employee productivity. It could be a great incentive for employees to remain with a company.

The fact that over “half of Britain’s working days lost in 2019/20 were due to mental ill-health,” according to a previous HSE study, makes the relatively high number of staff wanting mental health days (32%) in this year’s study another unsurprising finding.

By offering mental health days, employers could help eradicate the taboo around the mental health conversation and help employees feel included, seen, and respected if they can access this right without having to hide it.

Employers should also frequently communicate that employees can openly speak to their managers about mental health and access support.

Ways to boost wellbeing, productivity, and reduce presenteeism

Many workplaces have reported increased productivity from remote working. This is a further reason why managers should regularly check with staff to see if they need any support and build stronger relationships, which could help them open up about stress and reduce presenteeism via better workload management.

To boost staff engagement and productivity, offering training courses is a good idea, or even wellbeing activities such as yoga online to encourage team bonding.

3 wellbeing steps managers can give to employees

Whether staff is still working from home or heading back to the office, management can communicate these three simple steps to ensure they have greater wellbeing and a better work/life balance.

1. Help them sleep better

During COVID-19, cases of insomnia rose and now affect one in four people; suggest that staff who are struggling reduce their caffeine intake, turn off any screens before going to bed and ensure they keep constant sleeping and waking hours. Also, keeping their bedrooms dark will increase feelings of calm.

2. Help them manage their screen time

Overusing social media and constantly checking news outlets can increase anxiety during a time when people are getting information overload about the pandemic. Encourage staff to limit their screen time and only use authoritative news outlets to access reliable information.

3. Encourage a balanced working day

Working in a structure that allows frequent short breaks (say a 15-minute break for every two-to-three hours of work) actually increases energy and helps staff switch off at the end of the day; conversely, constant working will increase chances of burnout and decreased productivity.

Also, encourage staff to tidy away their work desk at the end of the day and to leave the workplace (especially if they’re still at home) for a walk to draw a line under the working day. Promoting non-work-related activities after the day ends is also a good idea.


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