As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased and we are encouraged to resume more of our regular activities, this stretch of working from home or being on furlough is likely to be coming to an end for many. Whether you’re returning to work in the newly opening up hospitality industry or your organisation has started talking about transitioning staff back into the office environment, it’s likely you’re experiencing some anxiety about these next steps.
Recent research by Bupa found that 65% of British workers feel anxious about their return to the office. The ability to maintain social distancing; the commute; and the cleanliness of the office environment were among the biggest specific concerns voiced.
It is important that organisations recognise that the risks to people’s health from this crisis are psychological as well as physical. Many of us have faced a challenging situation over the last three months, whether that’s down to juggling work and looking after (and trying to homeschool!) children; caring for vulnerable relatives; or an increased financial burden as a result of job loss within the household.
Even if you’ve found it all relatively smooth sailing, transitioning back to working in a shared environment with your colleagues is going to involve a period of adjustment. The required movement from an isolationist and protectionist mindset to embracing venturing into shared spaces – likely using public transport – all while managing underlying anxiety around the specific threat the coronavirus poses is a process to work through.
According to Mind, one in six British workers were affected by mental health problems like anxiety, depression and stress each year prior to the pandemic. With poor mental health costing the economy somewhere between £74billion and £99billion annually, it’s clear that this isn’t something we can afford to ignore, either as employees or as those managing workplaces. The close link between staff wellbeing and organisational resilience and productivity reinforces the need for a focus on establishing and maintaining mentally healthy workplaces during this transition phase.
I often talk about having a preventative approach to stress and in this current situation, a proactive attitude that promotes wellbeing will be far more valuable than reactive management when employees are already struggling. A focus on flexibility, adaptability and resilience in these challenging times, both on an organisational and individual level, will be hugely beneficial.
This focus underpins the cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) work I do, encouraging a holistic mind-body approach to managing anxiety, worry and physiological responses to stress. Drawing in lifestyle elements, encouraging higher levels of self-compassion and developing resilience through understanding and regulating emotions are all fundamental elements of a preventative attitude to stress.
So what can you do to prepare yourself for the return to work?
- Talk about it. Share your concerns with your employer. Opening up about what is causing you anxiety may reduce the feeling to some degree as you are forced to work through your emotions in order to articulate them. It will also provide your company with insight as to what issues they need to help their staff to address.
- Establish a new routine. Chances are that by now you’ve settled into a pattern of working from home but it’s unlikely to resemble the routine you had when you used to travel in to the office every day. I’ve explained the importance of routine previously and this approach is even more valuable during periods of uncertainty and transition.
- Show yourself some self-compassion. You may find yourself having unhelpful thoughts around the validity of your current anxiety. Just because you are technically ‘returning to normal’, it doesn’t undermine your concerns – your world has changed significantly in the last few months. Be kind to yourself and show yourself the understanding you would give your best friend if talking to them.
- Discover what formal support is available from your employer. Companies should be putting specific policies in place to address concerns arising around COVID-19. Ask your HR department what resources are available and familiarise yourself with the information available from organisations like Mind. (Their Wellness Action Plan is a practical way of helping you to support your own mental health at work.)
If you would like more help with addressing your worries around returning to work then my Unravelling Worry course is a good place to start – providing practical tools and approaches to reducing the impact of stress on your daily life.
This period wasn’t just a pause, with life set to automatically return to how it was before; it was, and continues to be, a space in which to reassess and determine priorities and purpose (more on that in an upcoming post) and determine what we want the future to look like. Take this opportunity to work on building your resilience and emotional agility and taking a proactive approach to shaping what a return to work looks like for you and your organisation. For more information around CBC and how it can help with the transition back to work, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07837993241 and let’s get the conversation started.