Return to Work Anxiety

The transition back into a semi-bustling office can be a tough one. Instead of having your tea break on the sofa, sat next to the dog and listening to some jibber jabber on radio 4, you might now be confined to a stiff chair in the lunchroom, whilst Karen from accounts harps on about what a cold summer it’s been.

Towards the more serious end of the discussion, these missed home comforts come as a symptom of the issues of returning to work. The hybrid working model, which many businesses are adopting, if not implemented with the correct support, can lead to anxiety and stress when coming back into the workspace. Employees who might be returning from furlough may also have a higher level of stress inherent to coming back to work, and anxieties caused by the possibility of further unemployment should be accounted for when considering how to approach this transition.

The average time spent commuting in the UK is 58 minutes. Already a generally disliked time of the day, the disdain for the journey to work will be further made worse by the pandemic’s hangover. With some, if not many, choosing not to wear masks out and about, let alone on public transport, and being placed in an often busy and packed train or bus, the hour-long commute has the potential to cause a lot of stress for those that partake. Big crowds, and the thought of the germs that reside within, could be panicking for some before COVID-19 appeared, never mind after! Staff need to know how to deal with these extra stresses to protect their wellbeing to and from their office or workplace.

Upon arrival to work, the office itself can also be frightening to many, having spent nearly 2 years away. Social anxieties are a big one here, as being around many people without having many options to take 5 can by scary at first. This, combined with a potential increased workload and pressure due to potential reductions in staff can lead to overwhelm and feelings of burnout. Of course, this is something that all employers will want to avoid, and something that all employers, if taking the right steps, can reduce significantly. Here are three practical tips for employers to manage return to work anxiety:

1. Keep lines of communication open

A good way to try and combat this is to keep lines of communication open with your employees. If the conversation is always open regarding anxieties of returning to work, not only will staff have the opportunity to voice their issues and potentially to help solve these problems with the team, but they will also recognise that they are not alone in their struggles. These could be in the form of coffee mornings, or engagement surveys to see how the return to work is going for everybody. Realising communication is beneficial towards somebody’s ability to be resilient towards these changes will enable a much more frank conversation, which will in turn lead to your team being able to tackle the issue together.

2. Encourage self-care

It is also important that while staff take time to communicate, they must also take time for themselves. It might be useful during a commute on the train, for example, if an employee feels overwhelmed by the crowds, to practice a quick one-minute mindfulness activity to remove themselves from the stressful situation, and really try to focus their relaxation and pay attention to their thoughts. Methods like these, which allow time for yourself, can help to make a flustered journey that bit more enjoyable.

3. Host a Lunch and Learn

Lunch and learns are a fantastic way to create discussions within the workforce regarding mental health and teach employees important ways to recognise, and most importantly deal, with stress. Our Resilience and Change Lunch and Learn session gives employees the tools to recognise the tell-tale signs of stress before they get too much, both in themselves and others, but do not stop there. After all, there is little use recognising a problem, and not offering either a solution or a preventative measure. Considering this, our sessions provide numerous tools and techniques to use as and when you need them when things might be getting too much, or the pressure of the commute is stressing you out. As well as this, lunch and learns can highlight to employees the benefits and ways of signposting colleagues to the correct and appropriate services that the company offers, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, the relevant Mental Health First Aiders, or even a GP external to the business. It’s important that all employees have an understanding of these, both for themselves, and when they need to refer others to the services. To find out more about our Lunch and Learn sessions, visit our services page.

As businesses start coming back to work, it’s important that we consider the stresses that this process will have on our workers. Every company has a duty of care towards them and should be arming them with the correct tools to encounter specific scenarios as they work. You’d give employees working with potential hazards PPE, so let’s give all employees who have the potential to experience stress the right equipment to deal with it.

Explore what initiatives you can run to support employees including our wellbeing Lunch and Learn sessions here.

Alistair is our Business Development Executive with a passion for people and communication. Alistair has a deep enthusiasm for mental health, believing wholeheartedly in the need for transparency and honesty in the workplace. To facilitate this, Alistair puts to use his communication skills built up during many years in music and business industries at school and during university, where Alistair studied English. Following university, Alistair worked for a year as a marketeer in the construction industry, which further honed his professional communicatory skills, and knowledge of the B2B field.

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