Throughout the pandemic, businesses have put an emphasis on health safety with many allowing employees to work from home. Now that a large percentage of the population is vaccinated and safety measures have been carefully sorted out, employers are expecting their employees to return to the office. According to a recent study of those who have already returned, about 1 in 3 employees said that shifting back to in-person work has negatively impacted their mental health. Concerns vary from those centering around contracting COVID-19 in the workplace to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Employers should be aware of the problems their employees are facing and do everything they can to alleviate their stress.
If you are feeling the pressures of being back in your office building after a long period of time, you are not alone. Let’s take a look at 5 return-to-office concerns that impact employee mental health and ways to alleviate these concerns.
Schedule Flexibility Returning to the office means that employees must now travel to work. If you have a lengthy commute, you may feel that you are wasting an hour or more each day. Try to use the time to unwind and focus on your mental health. Listen to your favorite music or podcast. Once at work, you may feel that the work day itself has become more rigid. Consider requesting a hybrid schedule to ease your way back into your old routine. If this is not possible, focus on making the most of your time in the office by planning each part of your day in advance. Make a task list of activities to complete in the event that meetings are canceled.
COVID-19 After being told to stay home to avoid contracting COVID-19, you may now feel hesitant about being around your colleagues. You may be told that things are “returning to normal,” but you still may need to wear masks, have your temperature checked at the door, or be required to submit your vaccination status. You may be concerned about how social distancing can work in tighter office surroundings. A core request from employees has been improved air filtration, as the pandemic has brought to light pre-existing unhealthy conditions in the workplace. To ease your fears, ask your employer what safety precautions have been put in place. Express anything that may make you feel more comfortable such as having a designated seating area, a seat by the window, or even cleaning supplies.
Work-Life Balance It’s the little things that you may miss as you switch back from remote to in-person work. While working from home, you may have had time for a morning walk or to prep dinner on your lunch break. Now, you’ll need to plan ahead more as you will be spending less hours in your home. Studies have shown that employees with children in the home are experiencing additional stress. They face the challenge of balancing work and childcare as many schools have been forcing students to quarantine for long periods of time. Talk to your employer about your concerns and do not feel guilty about taking time off if necessary if you have the option.
Burnout If supervisors are strict with work routines, you will most likely not be able to take quick breaks if you feel it’s necessary. You may feel overwhelmed, and it could actually be burnout which can show up in several ways such as exhaustion, cynical detachment and a reduced sense of efficacy. If you find yourself engaging in negative behaviors, do not let the stigma on mental or substance-use disorders let you avoid seeking needed care. Many businesses have the possibility for employees to connect with professionals who can help you to maintain focus, stay on track with your work, and practice exercises that will reduce stress.
Socialization While some have felt isolated throughout the pandemic, another common cause of anxiety is having to socialize again after so much time. Go slowly as you try to rebuild social stamina. Do not feel obligated to attend after-work events. Request to hold some meetings on an online platform from your office if suitable. With tensions high, be aware of any negative vibes you are receiving from colleagues and be sure to report anything that you find threatening. It’s important that we all work together to promote a healthy work environment.
As you return to in-person work, remember to be aware of your mental health. The less stress you have, the more productive you will be at work. Talk with your employers about any concerns you may have and inquire about how they are managing mental health in the workplace. Employers who put a focus on the well-being of their employees by using proven preventative and proactive methods are successful in creating a culture of safety. For example, companies who use CrisisGo can use the Safety Intervention Manager tool to digitally check in with you to measure your social and emotional wellbeing and perform a behavioral risk assessment. They can also use it to report mental health concerns for collection, assessment, and intervention when needed. Employees can use the option of anonymously reporting concerns about themselves or others and then be given some options for intervention.
In this ever-changing world, it is more important than ever to be open about our feelings. Your key to mental clarity when returning to work is ensuring that expectations set for you are reasonable, that your environment is safe, and that it is acceptable if you need to take your time adjusting to the situation. Don’t feel pressure to feel that we are “returning to normal,” when we know that life has been altered in many ways. If we all work together on the adjustments we face and care about each other’s mental health, we can expect a smoother transition as we return to the office.