Supporting employees as the schools reopen

reopen schools
© Melinda Nagy

David Price, workplace wellbeing expert and CEO of Health Assured, advises how employers can support their staff as schools begin to reopen

This week, many teachers are preparing to welcome pupils back to school for the first time in months. Schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK are already open. But for many pupils in England, it will be the first time they have been in a classroom since March.

Now for many, who are anxious about childcare as they return to work, this is a blessing. But to others, it’s a worry—coronavirus is still an issue, and there’s uncertainty in some circles about the return. After all, the safety of staff, pupils, parents and the wider community must come first.

The official guidance on reopening schools is reasonably robust, with assessments, systems of control and contingency measures in place. But not everyone is going to have the time to read them—or even really, know that they’re there.

It’s essential to make sure that people are reassured and convinced that their children and families are safe in the event of a full return. As an employer, you should be taking steps to assure and minimise anxiety, allow for worries that may affect people’s ability to work, and leading by example. Here are some ways to navigate the return to school—and work—for everyone.

Communicate

People, as we say, maybe anxious. Sending a young child to school, when you’re not 100% certain that their safety is guaranteed, can be challenging. But there are plenty of resources which serve to reassure. For example, the guidance for parents and carers of children attending out-of-school settings during the coronavirus outbreak is regularly updated and applies to the autumn term. It includes explanations of risk assessments, protective measures, and expectations that are set in place for all school and school-related activities—and importantly, these measures are stringent. PPE, testing, tracing and distancing are all recommended, with face coverings to be made available if required.

Talk openly about this. Regular updates, in which these measures are promoted and celebrated, will reach far more employees than the dry press releases that accompany these measures. There’s some confusion over mixed messaging, which is contributing to the air of anxiety around reopening—you can reduce this by presenting the facts.

Listen

A lot of people are going to have concerns. After all, family and wellbeing are the most important things on most peoples’ minds, and some of the mixed messaging around is doing little to reassure.

The best way to handle this is by being open, caring, and listening. Let people voice their worries and concerns. A lot of the time, people want their voice to be heard—and when they’re allowed to speak freely, much of the time that’s reassurance enough.

Act

As you listen, you’re going to hear a lot of different stories from a lot of different circumstances. This is a positive thing—the best way to build a resilient workplace is to understand everyone who is a part of it. But listening doesn’t mean anything if you don’t listen carefully and act upon the things you learn.

Some people will be clinically vulnerable or have children in the same circumstance. Some will be nervous about available childcare. Many will have concerns about the safety of the workplace.

Advice, guidance, and reassure. Schools have, as mentioned earlier, stringent guidelines in place, and are as safe as can be. Your workplace should have had risk assessments, plans in place, and measures to stop the potential spread of coronavirus.

The trick is to be confident, to be truthful, and walk it as you talk it. Lead by example, and as September rolls around, and the kids go back to their routine, your own routine will follow suit.

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