Employees Have Return-To-Work Anxiety. Here’s How Employers Can Help.

People have adjusted to working from home for over a year now, but many companies are beginning to think about transitioning their employees back to the office. For many, the thought of returning to a traditional office setting after enduring the drastic changes that COVID brought can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. While employees may be excited to see old co-workers or meet new ones in-person for the first time, the anxiety that comes with this transition can’t be ignored.

Benefits and HR professionals play an essential role in supporting their employees as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and return to the office. Here are a few tips to consider:

Reassure employees that it’s okay to feel uncertain and anxious

COVID has brought on many stressful changes and transitions, and returning to work will be no different. The first step of any return to work strategy should be to acknowledge that this is an uncertain time for everyone and reassure them that employee safety is the organization’s biggest priority. It’s important to validate employees’ feelings and encourage an open line of communication to discuss concerns and best practices from the beginning. Managers should plan to regularly connect with their team members one on one to discuss any individual uncertainty about returning to work. This can help create a safe space for everyone to voice any concerns they may have.

Acknowledge there is no one-size-fits-all approach

Just like COVID has impacted everyone in different ways, everyone will have different concerns and priorities when they contemplate returning to work. Childcare, commuting, and personal safety are just some of the factors that employees will be grappling with. Senior leadership and HR professionals should encourage people to work with their managers to find a transition plan that works for them. It’s important to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety by offering flexibility around things like working hours and time in the office to employees that need them.

The company should also provide an overarching, well-communicated return-to-work plan for the whole company, which addresses overall safety concerns and can also serve as a roadmap that managers can use for these individual and team discussions.

Encourage employees to practice self-care

Self-care is another essential aspect to incorporate as employees return to the office. It’s easy for people to feel bogged down in the middle of the workday and forget to leave their desk for some fresh air. Remind employees to take time for themselves, even if it’s just for five minutes per day. Activities like exercise, meditation, or going for a walk around the block will reduce stress levels significantly.

Empower leaders to normalize the mental health conversations

While managers should create an open line of communication for their employees to voice concerns around their feelings of anxiety about returning to the office, it may be intimidating for some people to speak up about their uncertainties. Senior leadership should normalize discussions around mental health by implementing mental health-related benefits for the company, such as scheduling mental health days throughout the year and adopting comprehensive mental health benefits such as access to coaching, therapy, and psychiatry.

The upcoming return-to-work process is new, and employees need to be reassured that everyone is in it together. No matter what a company’s return-to-work plan is, the first order of business should be to genuinely support its employees through the wave of uncertainty and anxiety that will come with this life-changing transition.


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