What does ‘getting back to work’ mean?

Man at a desk

Yesterday (Thursday 14 May), our Advice Service published a new ‘one stop’ support webpage to support employers as they consider how to get their staff back to their original workplace or working environment.

As a business facing Service, our Advice Service has been at the forefront of hearing about the trends and key concerns of businesses at each stage of COVID-19. As many of our members operate globally, we were receiving queries about coronavirus back in December 2020 even before it was officially named as “COVID-19” in February this year. We saw many of our members choosing to move as many of their staff as possible to home-working long before lockdown was considered by the UK Government, and we have more recently seen businesses keen to get their organisation operating as usual, even prior to the Government’s announcements on returning to work during the last week.

Throughout each of our conversations with members, one thing is clear: no business is the same in how a return to usual working practices will need to be managed. There were regular themes emerging from the concerns and questions we are being asked, even if the micro detail was different.

We have therefore created the guidance on this webpage as ‘questions for consideration’ which prompts an organisation to consider how something will affect their specific employee, team, department, workforce. The questions will guide employers through thinking about how to prepare the working environment for employees to return to it, and the wider issues to consider: facilities, such as air conditioning and fans; social and psychological factors, such as messaging and managing employees’ anxiety about health risk; what to think about when assessing if all staff should return at the same time; and identifying who might particularly benefit from remaining a homeworker for longer. We have also addressed the most common questions we receive about a potential second wave of COVID-19 and we importantly consider how employers must consider employees who have had ongoing NHS treatment and medical procedures cancelled.

As guidance from the Government and other key bodies (such as the EHRC and CIPD) become available, it will be held in the section titled “Further information and latest guidance”. This comes from businesses telling us there is so much information in different places that it is hard to keep up with. Our Advice Service’s aim is to make our members’ jobs easier, so we hope putting everything here in one place will do just that.

Lockdown particularly has been, literally, life-changing for very many businesses and their staff. Some employees are enjoying it, and others loathe it and are itching to return to being among their colleagues and returning to their favourite working-day coffee shop. For businesses, lockdown working has provided an opportunity to overhaul their approach to flexible and remote working and, for others, lockdown working brings an economically frustrating and stressful disruption. Whatever the circumstances, we are seeing that COVID-19 has increased anxiety among staff, particularly related to returning to work and the risk to their and their loved ones’ health which, in turn, has meant employers are dealing with an unprecedented nature of (understandable) fear and anxiety among an incredibly high percentage of their workforce.

Whatever the circumstances your businesses is facing, we hope this page will help you. Members, do call us and tell us what you are dealing with; many other of our Members are calling us to do the same and we look forward to supporting you through whatever your organisation needs to do next.

And if you’d like to learn how to become a Member or Partner of Business Disability Forum, please find out more here

Sharing the responsibility for workplace mental health


Stephen Pearce looking at the camera

Stephen Pearce, Group Finance Director at Anglo American

World Mental Health Day (Thursday 10 October) was an annual reminder of the importance of looking after our mental health, and the intrinsic role that talking honestly about mental health can play to our mental wellbeing.

At Anglo American, this is a conversation which we believe should last the whole year round. Yet, despite 1 in 4 of us being affected by mental illness in our lifetimes, mental health remains a difficult and uncomfortable discussion topic, for many. Only 44 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by BITC, for example, said they would feel comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health. The problem may be even worse amongst younger employees. Over 63 per cent of those who took part in a survey carried out by Business Disability Forum, last year, said that they would not be comfortable talking about their mental health at their place of work or study.

Along with our individual circumstances and our external environment, work can be a major contributor to our mental health – both good and bad. Businesses therefore have a critical role to play in seeing mental health as a shared responsibility.

We can help to do this by creating an inclusive environment and at Anglo American we believe this must be one where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

We know that leadership and business commitment are critical enablers to develop and sustain an environment that supports a mentally healthy workplace for everyone, and this is why internally we have put in place a significant wellbeing offering.

But we know that promoting mental wellness on its own is not enough. We also need to consider the steps we can take to prevent and respond effectively and early to mental ill-health and we have made this a key aspect of our Global Mental Health Framework.

Colleagues experiencing mental illness need the support of trained managers and HR practitioners whose actions are guided by comprehensive and informed policies. In turn, managers need to know that their own needs are being supported by leadership.

For this reason, Anglo American recently chose to partner with Business Disability Forum on the development of a series of best practice resources and guidance intended to help other organisations seeking to develop their own mental health framework.

We hope the resources will help organisations of all sizes to understand the importance of mental wellbeing and the actions they can take and should take to create a healthy workplace.

Poor mental health left unchecked can escalate, impacting on the individual, the team and the wider organisation. It therefore makes sense that promoting mental wellbeing is everyone’s business.

Find out more about the resources available here.

Stephen Pearce is Group Finance Director at Anglo American

Autism and your workplace  

A master in your field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates brightly as you speak, but yet struggling with employment – or know someone who is?

Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 80% of adults with Autism are unemployed (UN, 2015). A barrier exists between talented individuals and the future workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments.

The challenge

Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?

It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t facilitate neurodiversity.

Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies (CIPD, 2018). The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture the neurodiverse mind.

neurodiversity thought

The workplace is missing out on a spectrum of talent

Neurodiverse conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.

A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognise patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. Interestingly, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry due to passionate enthusiasm around their interests.

“Autism…offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that otherwise might pass us by” (Dr. Colin Zimbleman)


So, how can you be mindful of different minds?

Changing the workplace mindset means to recognise the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.


Recruitment and hiring

Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.

During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.


Retain employees

Flexibility towards personalised working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise cancelling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.

Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.

Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.


If you want to find out more about embracing neurodiversity within the workplace, download Texthelp’s Neurodiversity Guide.

 Business Disability Forum also has a Briefing for Employment adjustment for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.