UCL Human Resources


COVID-19: Having a conversation with your staff member

It is important that you give staff an opportunity to express how they feel about returning to work on campus after such a long period of remote working or furlough.

Some people will have had a very difficult time since lockdown began, and may have experienced bereavements, difficult home working environments, relationship issues, financial worries and many other issues that might have had a negative impact on their wellbeing.  

Please bear in mind that a disproportionate number of BAME staff will have been impacted for reasons related to socio-economic standing and cultural norms (poorer health outcomes from COVID-19, bereavement, multigenerational households and financial concerns and for Black staff, anxiety about more overt racism and the current protests around Black Lives Matter; those with disabilities or mental health issues (though not all disabled people will have vulnerability to COVID-19), parents (particularly single parents) and those with specific caring responsibilities. 


Conversations with your team and individuals within your team are often more difficult in these times where issues can be thorny and planning forward can be fraught with uncertainties and unknowns.

Below are some ‘conversation starters’ you might wish to use to help you have a discussion with your staff member. It is recommended that you check that they are in a space where they are able to talk freely and openly about the challenges they may have faced.

  • How have you been feeling since lockdown began?
  • What are you home circumstances like?
  • How are you feeling about the prospect of returning to work on campus?
  • Do you think it is safe to return to work on campus?
  • Do you know who to talk with if any problems crop up?
  • What parts of your job do you think you will find difficult and what can we change to help overcome the difficulties? 

In planning for the conversation, be mindful: 

  • Personal and professional responsibilities and concerns carry equal weight.
  • Anxieties around protecting ourselves and our families are heightened. 
  • Talking about the issues can help. 
  • Staff members will appreciate acknowledgement of their anxieties. 
  • No one is expecting us to have all the answers. 


It may also help to encourage your people to consider the following self check in for mental health and wellbeing:

‘It is important that we all take a few moments to check in on our health and wellbeing. We should take the time to think about the following four questions. Knowing our normal responses to these will help us to gauge where we need to place our attention.  If we normally sleep well, and through reflecting on our mental health and wellbeing we recognise that it has not been as good as it was, then we can act.

  • How do I feel physically? How much energy do I have?

  • How is my mood today? What emotions am I feeling?

  • Am I drinking enough water? Eating a balanced diet? Getting enough sleep? Have I exercised today?

  • How are my thoughts making me feel and behave?

You will find resources to support you and your mental health and wellbeing on the UCL Workplace Health website. Making Hybrid Work hub has a collection of on-line resources aimed at supporting us in these challenging times.  Have a look at the self-care section which has hints and tip on supporting wellbeing’