How to Ease Back-to-the-Office Anxiety
As associations make plans to reopen their offices, many staff members will feel anxious about returning to work. An expert offers tips for employers and employees to help mitigate fears and concerns.
As organizations make plans to reopen their offices, many employees are feeling anxious about going back. A recent survey from Best Practice Institute found that only 13 percent of employees want to return to the office full-time, with many expressing concerns about safety.
Michelle Paul, psychologist and director of The PRACTICE Mental Health Clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s natural to be anxious about returning to work. However, employers can help anxious staffers by being proactive.
“One of the first things employers can do is validate that this is a difficult time, and it makes sense that their employees feel nervous, anxious, afraid, trepidation,” Paul said. “That can go a long way in creating goodwill and trust.”
Trust will be essential if back-to-work plans are going to succeed. “Without the foundation of trust and a working alliance between employer and employee, the tasks required to get back to work are not going to be as effective,” Paul said.
Employers should follow guidelines for going back to work safely, using resources from the government and associations. Then, they need to communicate what they are doing to employees.
“Always check in,” Paul said. “Don’t assume people know what you’re doing, even though you’re living and breathing it as an employer. You have to repeat yourself many times.”
She said that employers should remind employees that this a path they’re traversing together. “Navigating the pandemic is like driving in a snowstorm with limited visibility,” Paul said. “I need my passengers to be looking with me. I’ll look out this window. You look out that window. We don’t know what the future is going to look like, so we have to be vigilant together. We have to support each other.”
While employers can calm anxieties by following best practices and communicating them, for staff, the key to anxiety reduction is figuring out what things are making them feel that way.
“The anxieties are going to be different depending on the setting and the circumstances,” Paul said. “Once you can put some words to it, and get out, ‘What am I afraid of?’ you can make a plan. Does what I’m feeling make a whole lot of sense, and I can do something about it? Or is it a general anxiety?”
Unfortunately, pandemics come with general anxiety. “The fear is not going to be resolved until we have a vaccine, so we have to live our lives with a certain level of fear,” Paul said. “Recognize that and make room for self-care and compassion for yourself and others.”
However, if anxiety becomes so overwhelming it interferes with daily functioning, Paul recommends seeking out professional help. The good news is that COVID-19 has brought telehealth to the forefront, so those anxious about going out during a pandemic don’t have to leave home.
“Now might be the best time to get services in your home without having to travel,” Paul said. “Just be mindful that [mental health providers] are using a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform.”
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