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Those are the findings of psychologists from the University of Chester and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Christina Buxton from the University of Chester, and Dr Sarita Robinson from UCLan, have concluded that while childcare and transport can be a barrier to employees returning to the office, this was not the only driving force.

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Christina Buxton
Christina Buxton, programme leader in Psychological Trauma at the University of Chester.

An analysis of research into psychological responses to public health incidents found that many people are still likely to be anxious about returning to their workspaces.

For some people this could be perceptions of their employer or whether they felt job role was still important, while for others, their general personal perception of risk was a consideration, people were naturally more risk-averse and became anxious more easily, while others had a higher level of risk tolerance and could cope more easily with working during the pandemic. 

During today’s British Psychology Society (BPS) conference, the pair will highlight their suggestions for ways that employers can play their part in helping colleagues get back to work:

  • Provide support to remove practical barriers to returning to work, such as help and advice regarding childcare and transport;
  • Recognise some people may have anxiety about returning to work and build trust with employees;
  • Provide timely, accurate and relevant information relating to employees around their return to work and make sure appropriate training is given to alleviate concerns about workplace risks;
  • Ensure employees are still clear about their job role;
  • Offer financial incentives and additional leave in recognition of the extra effort/duties/hours undertaken during difficult times.

Their findings relate to research carried out last year, where both experts analysed people’s responses to previous major public health incidents, such as SARS, Chernobyl and 9/11, and explored what motivated – and stopped – people returning to work.

Their paper was informally submitted to SPI-B (the behavioural subgroup of SAGE,) ahead of publication to aid its understanding of factors that influence public willingness to return to work.

Christina Buxton, programme leader in Psychological Trauma at the University of Chester, said: “Understanding the psychological and physical barriers and interventions that can help overcome these will enable a fuller return to the workplace, and therefore the circulation of labour and commerce that ultimately assist in creating a more effective return to economic recovery.”

Dr Sarita Robinson, Deputy Head for the School of Psychology and Computer Science at UCLan, said: “The word ‘unprecedented’ has perhaps been overused over the last year – but for good reason. Everyone has experienced varying degrees of stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s important for employers to recognise this and adapt to the needs of individuals. With care, compassion and clear communication, employers can make the transition to post-pandemic working life much smoother for their employees.”

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