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Compassionately helping colleagues return to work after shielding: guide for teams

Your colleagues have been shielding because they are more vulnerable than most people. It’s important to remember that they did this for their own personal safety, physical and mental wellbeing. They may be feeling excited to see you again and get back to a sense of normality, they may be feeling apprehensive to return to work and still worried about their safety, or they may be feeling guilty as they haven’t physically been able to support the team like they would usually. This guide will help you consider how you can compassionately and safely support them to re-join you in the workplace.

Put yourself in their shoes: We are all different and need different things. You know your colleagues best. Try and imagine what it has been like for them to have been shielding. Now think about what would make their transition back to work more comfortable. Now ask yourself, what will you do to compassionately welcome them back.

Here are several case studies for you to consider. Read each of their stories and consider what it would be like to be in their shoes, and what may practically help them to feel more supported when re-entering the workplace.

“I’ve been shielding for several months now. I’ve got to go back to my role as a frontline nurse soon. I’m really apprehensive and worried I’ll catch it. Part of me thinks all this anxiety is in my head, which has been made worse from having too much time alone to think these past several weeks as I live on my own. I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness to help me cope, which has helped a tiny bit, but the thought of going back is still overwhelming.”

“I have a long-term condition and was asked to shield by my GP. I’m also male and from the black community, so seeing all of the reports on the news about me being even more at risk from the disease makes me even more worried about everything. I am looking forward to seeing my colleagues though, as I have really missed them, and it will be good to try and get back to a sense of normality.”

“I’ve been shielding to protect one of my loved ones. My partner has a long-term condition, so we have been staying at home as a family to protect them. I have asthma myself so I’m a little worried about me too, but it’s in control with my inhaler so I hope I’d personally be ok if I caught it. It’s my family I worry about. It’s been difficult being at home and trying to home school my children on top of all this, and I’m worried about going back with all of my ongoing family commitments. I’m also feeling guilty as I know my colleagues have been working really hard keeping our workplace going whilst I’ve been working remotely, and I’ve not been able to support them like I would if I was there”.

Keep in touch: Whilst your colleagues are shielding, they are likely to feel isolated and alone. Reach out to remind them that you care and are thinking of them. Being compassionate in this way will mean a lot.

Welcome them back: It’s likely that you haven’t seen your colleagues properly, if at all, since before they began shielding. Take some time to compassionately welcome them back into the workplace and let them know that you are there to support them. Talking helps, so if you know them well and have a trusting relationship, you may want to ask them what it was like to shield, how they are feeling about returning to work, and what you can do to help them. Keep checking in on them to let them know you care.

Be flexible and supportive: It’s likely that colleagues who have been shielding will need a little flexibility as they are welcomed back into the workplace. You may even welcome new colleagues into your team, as returning to their main role/workplace could be too risky for their wellbeing at this time. As you welcome colleagues back into work and if your service enables you to do this, you as a team may want to compassionately explore ways of working safely and flexibly that inclusively meet all of your needs. This could mean that certain colleagues who are more at risk need to work a little more flexibly at first, or you may arrange shifts that ensure social distancing and safe workplace practices are maintained, amongst other flexible ways of working that enable you to care for each other, stay safe and continue to deliver your service.

Keep the workplace safe: Our NHS organisations and services will be doing everything they can to make the workplace safe for us all. However, remember that colleagues who have shielded are still more vulnerable than the rest of us. It’s important to remain attentive to keeping the workplace a safe place to work and to follow guidelines. This will demonstrate to your colleagues who have been shielding that they are in a safe place as they transition back into their roles and begin to effectively support you and your team once again. If you have any concerns around safety or for the wellbeing of your colleagues, remember to raise these concerns with your manager for support.

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