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Alleviate those return to the office fears

By Emma Tee on

Freedom Day, a term specifically coined for Monday 19th July 2021. 

It’s the day restrictions lifted despite the growing number of cases and overall feeling that we’re not free from Covid. Splashed across the papers, the day made headlines, and while some were standing in queues at midnight eager to dance to mostly mediocre music on sticky nightclub floors (we’re showing our age here as music isn’t what it once was and generally it’s part of the pandemic we’ve not missed!) others felt great trepidation stepping out into a world where social distancing and masks were now things of the past.

We have to come to terms with the fact that this is normal life now, although it doesn’t have the sense of normalcy that we so desperately tried to cling onto. We don’t know about you, but in our minds, if we can’t get on a beach without having to understand the million and one isolation, traffic light, vaccine, and testing rules, then it seems we’re still not as free as we once were and are living a “new normal”, rather than the old one. 

With ‘normal’ life resuming, the guidance of ‘work from home if you can’ has been scrapped, leaving employers desperately hopping onto Zoom calls with employees, asking them to return to work as normal, at 9 am on Monday morning. 

In our experience, some employers have considered the feelings of their employees by asking how they would like to work moving forward and by introducing measures such as traffic light wristbands that are a simple, but effective way of showing how comfortable people are with the easing of restrictions and their personal limitations.

If you’ve not been one of the fortunate ones and haven’t been given the option as to how you would like to return to the office, it can be incredibly daunting to step into your workplace for the first time in almost 17 months, especially following a tirade of news filled with fear and being continually told that you should under no circumstance mix, and constantly reminded of the stress the NHS is under.

With all of this in mind, anxiety is a 100% normal and valid way to feel. We’ve heard from lots and lots of applicants who feel the same, so if you do feel anxious about returning to work, you’re not alone and are within your right to share your feelings with colleagues or your manager, without any feeling of embarrassment or shame. 

There are things that you can do to alleviate your anxiety and proactively help you come to terms with returning to the workplace, and the first thing on your list should be opening up the lines of communication. Ideally, we recommend speaking to your manager or a member of the HR team, as those are the people who can put in place a plan to help support you. It’s worthwhile sharing the reasons why you’re hesitant to return to work and come up with some solutions that you think might help. 

Would you be open to returning to work on reduced hours, or go to work when it’s a little less busy? Would you be able to have an office of your own or a quiet nook in the office that you can hang out in? Would you prefer to keep the mask on? Would you prefer to keep the plastic dividers in place? Would you prefer that people still kept their distance? Would you prefer to test every day?

All of those things are simple processes that can be implemented and if they are steps that will help you feel better and more comfortable at work, it’s worthwhile asking if they are feasible options. The worst thing that can happen is someone says no. 

Another great option is asking for a buddy. A buddy doesn’t necessarily just need to be in place for new starters, a buddy can be there to support you no matter how long you’ve been in the company. They’ll be there to listen to your concerns and support you through them – it may even do you good to start feeling comfortable around someone in a work setting. Having someone on call is some of the best support you can get, so it’s worth considering and asking if this could be explored further. 

And finally, if your anxieties can’t be relieved within the workplace, find out if you have access to an Employee Assistance Programme as more often than not an EAP will provide you with access to counselling sessions. If you don’t have access, then there are other routes that you can take, the first route being contacting your GP and the second being reaching out to a charity. There are so many charities out there that can help you get over the hurdle, one being Anxiety UK. Also, meditation can work wonders! There are hundreds of free resources on YouTube, or you can find fabulous resources on the Headspace app. 

And do remember that if you have reached out to your employer and they’ve not given you the support you need, there are companies out there that will. If the past months have taught us anything, it’s that you and your health come above all else.