retuning to the workplace

Anxiety about returning to the workplace has become a prominent mental health issue in the UK over the past month. Fear and uncertainty is normal when faced with change but as the world slowly merges back into it’s pre-COVID state there are steps you can put in place to help you better cope with negative emotions.

Be kind to yourself

It’s ok to feel uncertain and distressed. This is an incredibly challenging time for everyone.

Many of us have had to adjust to a new normal, which has involved spending the majority of time in our homes and the idea of now returning to the workplace can provoke anxiety, as our brain is alerted to a new potential risk in front of us. So be kind to yourself and recognise that it is okay to feel like this.

Don’t try to go from 1 to 100 on your first day back at work. You need to get used to a new routine once again, which can take some time to settle in. Keep things simple at first, so that you don’t become overwhelmed. As humans, we can find change difficult so you won’t be alone in dealing with anxiety about going back to work following on from lockdown.

Speak with your employer

When people worry it is typically related to uncertainties or the unknown. Many people who are returning to the workplace are worried about catching coronavirus when they do so or spreading the virus amongst family and friends if they become infected at work.

At this moment in time, many employers are carrying out risk assessments and taking clear steps to make sure workspaces are safe. So speak with your manager or employer and get as much information as you can about how the workspace will be adapted and how people will move around within it.

Having all the appropriate information as well as answers to any questions you have can help to ease your worries about potential risks and dangers.

Maintain a good daily routine

When things appear to be constantly changing, try to maintain a good routine and positive structure to your day. Scheduling in moments of happiness and embracing the good things in our lives can be a great mental health boost as well as a welcome distraction from our anxieties.

During the hours when you’re not in work or in the run-up to you returning to work, spend time doing activities that you really enjoy and make sure you do them regularly.

Learn positive coping tactics

When you start to feel anxious, you may find that your breath quickens which causes your heart to beat faster and leads to you feeling dizzy, disorientated and even more anxious than before. Learning a few breathing techniques where you bring your attention to your breath during these moments can help you to relax, focus and quieten your mind. Here is one breathing technique for you to try:

  • Breathe in for four seconds
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds
  • Breathe out for eight seconds

Make sure that your stomach expands as you take in each breath so that your breathing is deep rather than shallow.

To read our blog on improving your happiness at work click here

You may also want to create a series of mantras or affirmations as another anxiety technique, as positive self-talk can help you to move past any negative and anxious thoughts you have about returning to work. When putting together these mantras, think about the negative things that you tell yourself and make sure your mantras are the direct opposite to these. Some to think about including are:

  • I can do this
  • I am strong and can get through difficult times
  • It is okay to feel like this
  • This will not break me

This self-talk can help you to overcome your negative thoughts and recognise your positives and strengths, all of which will help you as you return to work.

Seek professional treatment for anxiety if you feel it is needed

If your anxiety symptoms that you are experiencing continue to have a dramatic impact on your life or seem to be worsening over time, it is important that you seek professional help and support. Some of us need an extra bit of help when it comes to managing our symptoms and that is okay.

You may want to talk to your GP as they will be able to provide you with advice, and refer you for specialist treatment if appropriate.

Tips for managers – supporting staff to return to the workplace

  1. Make contact with members of staff who are out of the workplace as soon as possible. This will enable early risk assessment and return to work discussions to take place.
  2. Hold a structured return-to-work discussion with each staff member, in a sensitive manner, in order to: 
  • Understand how your staff members are feeling and consider how you can support them.
  • Thank them for their contributions to work during the pandemic.
  • Identify any signs of distress or mental ill health which need further professional input. 
  • Consider factors outside of work which may affect someone returning to the workplace.
  • Signpost staff to the internal support available for their health and wellbeing.
  • Update them on changes to the team and organisation.

3. Regularly check-in on staff members in 1:1s. Individual circumstances might change rapidly and they may need different support over time so it’s important to continue to focus on the wellbeing of each person.

4. Consider how you can help staff prepare when retuning to the workplace. For example, short visits to the workplace before they return could help staff familiarise themselves with the changes they can expect and to experience the social distancing and infection control practices.

5. Consider what peer support staff members might need. For example, could staff be paired up into buddies, where a returning staff member is paired with someone who has been in the workplace for longer.

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