Woman with her bike in the office

Freedom Day granted: Unum prepares employees for post-lockdown return to work

With the Government announcing July 19 as the day most COVID-19 restrictions will at last come to an end, UK businesses will be considering how they can best support their employees making the transition back into work, whether that’s from furlough or back to the office after working from home for a sustained period. However, not every restriction will be over. With some precautions remaining in place, an element of home working, or hybrid working, will remain for the foreseeable future.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 85% of adults currently working remotely want a “hybrid” approach to work, sharing their time between their usual place of work and remote working in the future.1 Meanwhile, 24% of companies said they will be increasing their level of home working moving forward.2 With the introduction of National Rail flexible season tickets from June 28 allowing travel on any 8 days in a 28-day period, hybrid working has become a much more accessible and realistic way of working for many.

No matter what employers choose to do next, returning to daily work routines and potentially getting used to new ways of working post-pandemic may take some time for employees.

Natalie Rogers, Chief People Officer at Unum commented: “After so long working from home, the official green light encouraging staff to return to offices, whether that’s full time or as part of their company’s hybrid working policy, can feel daunting.

“Creating an open and honest dialogue between managers and employees will be critical to ensure managers understand how their people feel about their work/life balance and can provide the right support to ensure everyone feels safe and confident in their return. Be creative, use engagement surveys and listen to ideas that come through from employees. And for anyone struggling with the return to the office, adopt a gradual approach, continue to demonstrate flexibility and collaborate between office-based and remote teams to keep the focus on reconnecting.”

It will be hard to predict the mental health impacts on staff of returning to the office in a post-pandemic world because it will vary considerably from person to person. That means the support each person needs will also vary. However, being proactive in supporting mental wellbeing is important regardless of whether employees are in the office or at home as this can improve your productivity and engagement.3

Employees covered by a Unum Group Risk policy get access to the LifeWorks Employee Assistance Programme. This offers emotional and practical support to help tackle concerns affecting someone’s emotional wellbeing, including relationships, bereavement, stress, and anxiety. The service is available 24/7/365 via a freephone helpline providing immediate and confidential access to qualified counsellors and experts, and online resources supporting people on a broad range of topics exactly when they need it.

However, we also support employees’ mental health on a much larger scale via Help@hand*, the health and wellbeing app from Unum. One of its five key services is mental health support from professional therapists who can offer advice and individual treatment plans (usually via video consultation). It’s available not just to employees but also their partners, with up to 8 consultations per year to share between them. The number of mental health appointments Help@hand has provided has increased by almost 50% between January and May 31 2021 alone4 and we may see even more appointments following Freedom Day as people adjust to returning to offices and social spaces after so long cloistered at home.

If that is the case, as well as Help@hand, employees covered by a Unum Group Income Protection policy also have access to our new Wellbeing Check. For those struggling with their wellbeing, such as difficulty managing their workload, motivation, self-care, time management, the impact of COVID-19, returning to the office or any other personal stressors, this personalised 1-2-1 coaching session can provide vital bespoke support.

*Help@hand is a virtual, value-added benefit service which connects the employees of Unum customers to third party specialists who can help manage their health and wellbeing, and that of their family. Access to the service is facilitated by Unum at no cost to the Unum customer. Unum is not the provider of the service but can withdraw or change the service at any time. The service is entirely separate from any insurance policy provided by Unum and is subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant third-party specialists. There is no additional cost or increase in premium as a result of Unum making this benefit available.

1 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/businessandindividualattitudestowardsthefutureofhomeworkinguk/apriltomay2021
4 Unum internal data

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