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Overcoming Emotional Health Challenges Associated with Return to the Workplace


After a year of managing the COVID-19, obvious operational disruptions have emerged impacting organisations. However, the most anticipated organisational challenge will be supporting the long term impact of their workforce’s emotional health resilience.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout accelerates globally, organisations need to approach their return to the workplace with a close lens on tackling their employee’s challenges of stress, work-life balance and anxiety.  

Feelings of isolation due to the long-term remote working, combined with the potential stress of working alongside non-vaccinated colleagues, could create complex challenges for those stakeholders managing their return to operations plans. Among the stigma induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronaphobia and associated level of anxiety/depression (the 2 typical manifestations of stress) is an emerging challenge that employers face while anticipating return to the workplace.

Emotional health

In a positive light, the pandemic has created a window of opportunity to address emotional health head on. Funding in emotional health was already increasing but experts believe that COVID-19 will have a big impact on driving this forward. Almost one in three business risk professionals see emotional health issues will likely cause a decrease in employee productivity in 2021, apart from those responsible for students and faculty, where this rises to 43%.1

Addressing emotional health challenges has been part of organisations health and wellbeing strategy for quite some time but the engagement from key stakeholders has only recently become top of mind of, and to no surprise ,accelerated by the pandemic. Organisations need to develop sophisticated emotional health strategies to not only fulfil their Duty of Care responsibilities but also to support their global workforce in remaining healthy and resilient.  

Furthermore, experts saw emotional health overtaking infectious disease risks in 2021. Experts expect that organisations could be faced with more employees on sick leave due to emotional health issues than COVID-19 symptoms (absenteeism) not to mention presenteeism. It is essential that organisations implement the appropriate preventive measures to tackle the risks associated with emotional health and ensure a smooth return to operations while their workforce remain healthy, safe and productive. Those measures should include:

Communicate and get your people involved – Communication and transparency are key to keeping your people well informed of the different steps and measures implemented as part of your return to work strategy. A clear communication plan with regular updates on the situation will help reassuring your workforce, providing them some confidence during these uncertain times. It is also crucial to get them involved and make them feel heard, getting their perceptions on policies and procedures. Keeping them involved will also provide them with a feeling of control which can help reducing their level of anxiety associated with the return to work process. From establishing your communication plan, to implementing an emotional health campaign for your workforce, our consulting practice has this expertise and is available to support your business.

Know your people - Carry out Emotional Health or Resilience surveys with tools that have scientifically been validated and can uncover individual pain points. This will provide insights into how your workforce is coping overall and enables an understanding into the type of programmes needed to address specific issues. 

Assess your workforce emotional health risk – Like other health and safety subjects, Emotional Health is now part of the risks landscape employers need to take into consideration and try to mitigate. Assessment in order to get relevant information and have the full picture of your current situation is the basis before implementing your plan of action. Among your people, it is crucial to identify who are more likely to develop emotional health disorders and hence requiring attention and assistance. – Get your workforce taking an emotional health assessment.

Provide and encourage access to emotional support – Make sure your people’s emotional needs are addressed by dedicated experts through an appropriate Employee Assistance Programme. Employees should be provided with a route to confidentially discuss their emotional health issues away from their direct managers and teams. This could be with HR or independent expert support activated by the company and should be communicated widely and consistently. Counselling support services will help you assist your workforce encountering psychological issues. 


1 –  International SOS Business Resilience Trends Survey 2021