After a year of non-stop Zoom meetings, virtual team building, and four-legged office companions, returning to an in-person work location will undoubtedly take some getting used to. Back to work anxiety is a reality for many as increased global vaccination efforts make in-person office attendance a possibility once more.
From health and safety concerns to an uptick in those reporting symptoms of social anxiety, workers are citing many reasons for their return to office apprehension. Heading back to crowded commutes and group interactions will represent a significant shift in how many have lived and worked over the last year. The comforting news is that return to work anxiety is normal, and there are many ways to manage and overcome worries about heading back to the office.
How to recognize return to work anxiety
While some companies are embracing a “work from home forever” philosophy, other organizations have begun preparing their employees for a phased or hybrid return to the office. However, these conversations may spark dread or anxiety as return dates near.
Return to work anxiety may include:
- Apprehension about in-person, work-based socializing
- Stress about returning to previous daily activities like commuting
- Health concerns about COVID-19
- Anxiety about meeting new colleagues after being onboarded remotely
- Worries over feeling less productive once back in the office
- Anxiety about spending less time with family and loved ones
It’s important to recognize that many are experiencing similar feelings and concerns. This is borne out by the numbers, which indicate there is a lot on workers’ minds during this transition period.
Returning to work anxiety and apprehension by the numbers
One Limeade Institute survey found that COVID exposure (77%), less flexibility (71%), and commuting to work (58%) were the top three reasons people said they were anxious about returning to the office. Work-life balance is also playing on the minds of workers, as is discomfort around in-person interactions.
- A Flexjobs survey found that 43% were worried about the impact returning to the office would have on their work-life balance
- One 2021 survey found that 49% of respondents said they felt “uneasy” about in-person interactions
This apprehension is normal. After a year at home, pandemic-related health fears aren’t likely to disappear overnight. Similarly, the flexibility of remote work has allowed many to spend more time with their families instead of spending hours commuting to and from a physical office location.
8 tips for dealing with anxiety about going back to work
Wondering how to handle the anxiety you’re feeling about heading back to the office? Here are some tips for getting through this transition period.
- Open up to colleagues and supervisors
Chances are that you’re not alone in your worries. Be candid with colleagues and share experiences, tips, and coping techniques as you prepare to return to an office setting. Knowing that others are experiencing the same emotions can be a source of comfort and a reminder that you’re not alone.
- Ease yourself in and set clear boundaries
If you’re not ready to participate in work outings, trips, or other in-person social activities, that is perfectly okay. Don’t pressure yourself. Allow yourself some time and space to feel comfortable socializing with colleagues again.
- Pay attention to your office’s return to work plans and ask questions
Keep up-to-date with your organization’s return to work strategy. Make an effort to fully understand their expectations and speak to your company’s HR department if you have concerns, issues, or questions.
- Ask for continued workplace flexibility
Workplace flexibility is here to stay, and many companies realize this. If heading back to the office full-time is a source of anxiety, speak to your manager and HR team about adjusting your schedule, and the benefits of working from home for you specifically. This may look like a compressed workweek, hybrid office arrangement, or reduction to part-time hours.
- Bring your healthy WFH habits with you, and don’t forget to decompress
If the thought of heading back to work raises your stress levels, be sure to take time out for a walk, mindful meditation, yoga break, or any other calming activity that helps you feel grounded instead of worried about the future.
- Speak to a professional
Any level of apprehension about returning to an office is understandable. A mental health professional can help you adjust to your next normal by teaching you stress management techniques and helping you to prioritize your wellness in this transition.
- Find out what safety measures your workplace is enacting to keep employees safe
Knowing what to expect as you head back to the office can help address concerns you have regarding your health and wellbeing. Get a sense of the policies your workplace intends to enforce regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, and other precautions.
- For the digitally onboarded, reconnect with your “buddy” or other new recruits
In-person office attendance after virtual onboarding can be nerve-wracking. Reach out to your onboarding “buddy” to show you the lay of the land. Or, if you were both onboarded remotely, you can figure things out together.
After a year away, returning to the office will impact everyone differently. Manage your return to work anxiety by remembering to set boundaries, stay up-to-date with your organization’s plans, prepare for what’s next, and seek help from a professional if you need it.
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