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As the government gradually eases lockdown restrictions, your employees may be experiencing FORTO (fear of returning to the office). Employers are now hiring more permanent staff following the uncertainty of the pandemic, which means the market for candidates is extremely competitive. This is particularly an issue in sectors such as Social Work, where there are skills shortages.

With the measures many employers have taken to make working safe, people’s expectations have changed. Subsequently, it’s important when we return to offices to ensure employees aren’t lost to organisations better-suited to meet their needs.

There’s a plethora of articles for employees addressing how to deal with FORTO. These ideas often include mindfulness, setting routines and speaking to managers. But how can public sector employers support and retain their staff through this change?

What’s Causing FORTO?

Work-Life Balance – Working from home has given a lot of people extra time in their day. From spending more time with family to having more hours to dedicate to hobbies or exercise, this has been a beneficial aspect of the pandemic for many. Returning to the office has the potential to decrease this work-life balance.

Financial Concerns – In addition to more time, working from home has also brought about reduced costs. Returning to the office, employees may be concerned about having to pay for childcare or commuting costs such as petrol and season tickets.

Infection – Many of us are afraid of the unknown. How safe will offices be? A Velocity report shows that 40% of British employees are afraid of returning to the office due to a lack of control over potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus from colleagues.

Mental Health – Few people consider the traumatic impact that the pandemic may have had on those who have been hospitalised, lost relatives or work on the frontlines. This raises concerns over whether or not there will be adequate support for employees’ mental health.

What Solutions Are Available?

Communication is key; staff need to be given the opportunity to voice their concerns. You should make sure your employees feel comfortable expressing any anxieties or concerns they have about returning to the office. If your staff don’t feel that they have a voice, you’ll be unable to address their problems.

In addition, ensure your staff understand what measures you will put in place to keep the office safe. Be clear on health and safety measures and communicate these with your employees.

If possible, consider adopting a hybrid approach to returning to work. Staff may feel more comfortable easing back into the office by starting at one or two days a week. This allows employees to maintain some of the benefits of working from home, while readjusting to the office environment.

Finally, support your employees’ mental health. Make sure your managers are trained to understand the impacts of the pandemic and approach returning to the office with empathy. Raise awareness about what support is available through wellbeing programmes and organisation-wide communications. This will allow you to promote advice such as these tips suggested by Mind.

Maintaining communication with your staff and supporting their wellbeing will allow your organisation to combat FORTO, and retain skilled employees in the process.