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How to Ease the ‘Back-to-the-Office’ Anxiety

As vaccines roll out across the globe, more and more offices are opening up. This is great news for people who are eager to get back to their desks. But what about people who are anxious about returning to in-person work? The Harvard Business Review recently published a great article on how to Help Your Employees Who Are Anxious About Returning to the Office’

There are many reasons why someone may be anxious to return to the office. Maybe they have health issues that would put them at risk. Or they have caretaking responsibilities that prevent them from going in. Perhaps they’ve discovered that they’re happier and more productive working at home, or they had a long commute they’re content to no longer endure.

Managers need to be aware of this. Thankfully, there are many things they can do to help their team with back-to-the-office anxiety.

1. Find out how people are feeling — anonymously, if necessary

You can’t assume that your employees will tell you if they’re feeling anxious about returning to the office. Therefore, you need to make it safe for people to speak up. Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School, suggests using anonymous surveys to ask how employees view the return. Then use the insights you gather to address people’s concerns.

2. Allow for uncertainty about returning

When people share their concerns – either openly or anonymously — it’s important to make sure you allow them to have mixed and complex emotions about it. It’s tempting to be positive about returning to the office as a way to reassure employees, but you risk making people feel dismissed, or pressured to hide their negative feelings.

3. Offer flexibility, if possible

If possible, give people some options about when and how often they can come into the office. If you’re too forceful, you risk losing employees. A recent survey found that 58% of people say they would “absolutely look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position.”

4. Consider experiments and pilot programs

A transition back to five days a week at the office may feel very sudden, like turning on a light switch. To avoid overwhelming employees, and to help ease them into a different way of working, consider running pilot programs or letting people experiment individually.

5. Be compassionate

Now more than ever, we all need to be more compassionate towards our co-workers. It’s important to continue to ask about how they’re doing and what else they have going on besides work. Talk about what you’re going through to make it okay for them to do the same. Keep an eye out for signs of burnout and stress, especially as their work schedule changes.

To conclude, one of the small silver linings of the pandemic is that it’s become more acceptable to talk about mental health at work. Just because many of us are going back to the office shouldn’t mean that the conversation and compassion around this topic should stop.

We hope that whether you are excited or anxious to get back to the office, that you are mindful of those around you. Be compassionate, be open and be kind to yourself. Change is hard but we will get through this transition together.

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