How to Cope with “Back To The Office” Jitters?

Thursday, February 17, 2022

How to Cope with “Back To The Office” Jitters?

As the pandemic subsides, more companies worldwide are bringing their employees back into the office. However, managers are facing some challenges in the process, as many employees don't feel comfortable and safe going back to the office.

Although all of us have been affected by the pandemic, we’ve all experienced its effects in different ways. Many employees have gone through phases of suffering and anxiety, leading to plenty of people developing different attitudes towards necessary health precautions. A huge portion of the workforce just doesn’t feel ready to head back into the office — so, what can employees and managers do to make the transition more comfortable?

Managers


The first thing managers have to do is to accept that their workers' needs and attitudes have changed over the course of the pandemic. While most surveyed professionals have reported a certain level of anxiety regarding a return to in-office work, these attitudes were not uniform across all age groups.

Among high-skilled professionals, 60% of them claim to be ready to search for another employer if their current one doesn't allow them to work from home in some capacity in the future. However, the youngest age groups (18-24) are keener to return to offices due to a desire for social interactions and events.

This is only logical, as younger employees have the most to gain from forming personal connections — especially compared to older workers that require less direct oversight and are more comfortable with their existing position in the company.

Also, older employees have practical health considerations as well — a potential exposure to COVID-19 poses bigger risks for them than for younger workers. Managers have to keep all of these differences in mind — and they also need to have a pulse on their employees’ general mood.

Anonymous surveys are great in this regard, because most employees are anxious about speaking up against their higher-ups' decisions in a critical way. Regardless of how these surveys are conducted, it's crucial to create a system that allows workers to safely voice how comfortable they are with in-office work and physical contact.

Some companies have opted for a visual system that lets workers quickly show if they're ready for physical contact or not. One of the variations involves colour-coded wristbands, where a red one indicates the person would prefer to keep their distance from others, yellow indicates readiness for limited greetings like elbows or fist bumps, and green shows the person is fully ready to resume regular handshakes and hugs.

Naturally, employees can switch their wristbands whenever they want, allowing people to adjust their preferences in accordance with evolving attitudes and health conditions. And employers can always remove the green bands completely if COVID-19 cases start rising dramatically in the area.

The primary point of the visual scheme is helping managers create an office environment where there are no awkward interactions between people with different preferences — eliminating a lot of the discomfort that would otherwise happen as employees start returning to their offices for the first time.

Workers require some flexibility and guidance to lower their anxiety levels as they return to in-office work. Managers should also post regular updates regarding any new precautions the company is taking. Also, it's essential to be transparent about the number of COVID-19 cases in the building. There will be far less employee anxiety if managers work towards creating a safe and honest work environment for a post-COVID world.

Employees

While managers are the ones that mostly shape the work environment in any office, there are also plenty of steps that employees can take for a smoother transition back into in-office work. If an employee feels frustration, fear, anger, disappointment, nervousness, or anxiety about this change, recognising this feeling and voicing it in a reasonable way will help regulate an otherwise chaotic emotional experience.

Also, it's vital to know when you're low-energy. All of these new health protocols and procedures can quickly eat up a lot of mental energy — which is already in low supply due to general pandemic-induced anxiety.

With that in mind, it's essential to shift your general framework and focus on self-care in this transitional period — even if you're someone who likes helping others. Here's a neat three-step framework for dealing with anxiety in the workplace. It involves recognising and writing down:

  • Things you can control: when you’re going to rest, whether you can muster the energy to exercise, what you’re going to drink and eat;
  • Things you can influence: asking work colleagues to wear masks in-office meetings and generally keep their distance; there's no way to eliminate all risk, but there are still ways to mitigate and manage it;
  • Things that you can’t control: you can’t do anything about bad weather or public transport that makes you late for a meeting; there are certain contingencies you can put in place, but if you want to conserve your energy and lower anxiety, recognising your limits is important.

When employees are going through phases of suffering and anxiety, it is important for employers to listen and support wherever possible. Especially in a time where many companies have adopted a hybrid working model and in person interactions are limited, collecting feedback and having real-time insights through technology are crucial for business continuation and employee wellbeing.

As an employee experience platform, Qualee can help companies of all sizes to listen to their employees thoughtfully, anonymously, continuously and intelligently, with the ultimate goal of maximising organisational alignment and belonging throughout the employee lifecycle. Sign up for a Starter Plan today!

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