Chatting to a client at a dinner hosted by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh the previous week at Prestonfield House, we agreed that while there can be a good deal of excitement about getting back to the workplace, you can also have an equal measure of anxiety when it comes to getting back into the old routine. I guess if there was a spectrum with excitement at one end and anxiety at the other, we all place somewhere on this particular yardstick.
While some people have flourished during Covid, others have floundered, and employers now need to fully commit to the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. Pre-pandemic, workplace initiatives around mental health could be filed under ‘nice to have’, whereas now it’s a ‘must have’.
It was something I spoke to Nicki Denholm about when I met the founder of search and recruitment specialist Denholm Associates earlier this month. As Nicki puts it: “Mental health and wellbeing has more importance today than at any point before. The nuances around this area, and other workplace factors that have moved up the agenda since the pandemic, are constantly changing and employers need to be on the ball if they want to attract and retain talent.”
Lisa Thomson, the founder and CEO of PurposeHR, acquired by accountancy firm Anderson Anderson & Brown in 2021, says that “from an employer point of view, it’s vitally important to treat employees as individuals, talk to them, seek their feedback and avoid making assumptions or generalisations.”
“By ensuring their voices are heard”, says Thomson, “people will feel involved in decisions and planning, which will in turn benefit engagement, wellbeing and retention.”
Paul Reid, CEO and co-founder of Trickle, a venture-backed startup that has developed digital tools to increase employee engagement and wellbeing, supporting organisations like the NHS during Covid, says: “The working world has changed beyond recognition in the last two years – being able to normalise change and make it part of everyday work is now essential for organisations to be successful. Truly understanding what matters most to your employees day by day, is more important than ever before."
While there are new unwritten rules of engagement around looking after your workforce in the wake of the pandemic, widespread research also indicates that most returning workers don’t want to go back to the kind of traditional office they worked in before Covid hit.
Jordan McCaffery, a partner at surveying and design consultancy HK, who count Skyscanner, Incremental Group, Leith, and Whitespace as clients, agrees that companies need to put a lot of thought into what a workplace looks like following two years of remote working: “There is definitely a consideration around softening the transition from people working at home to being back in the office and, two years on, technology is even more integral to how people work in 2022.”
Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy