The desire to move on from the Covid-19 pandemic and back to normal is palpable. And yet research suggests the level of anxiety in anticipation of a return to the office is extraordinarily high. So what can be done to ease any fears for staff?
According to research carried out by the employee experience company, Limeade Institute, all 4,553 employees across 5 countries who took part in a survey expressed some level of anxiety over the prospect of returning to work.
More than three-quarters (77%) cited the risk of being exposed to Covid-19 as their principal concern, while almost as many (71%) were worried about the reduction in work flexibility and more than half (58%) were unsettled at the prospect of commuting to work once more.
The participants involved in the study were all full-time employees working in the UK, Germany, Australia, the US and France. This shows that the concerns are widespread.
What Employees Can Do to Ease Anxiety
Employees who are experiencing anxiety at the thoughts of returning to in-person meetings can feel it in different ways. For some, it may be palpitations of the heart or even a panic attack. Others note the stress can manifest itself as lost sleep or headaches. But whatever way the experience is felt, there are some simple ways to ease the anxiety.
Adjusting from privacy that remote working can offer to the reality of in-person meetings can seem overwhelming. If it is a little nerve-wrecking, then the best option is to adjust slowly. Take on new responsibilities in a kind of drip-drip fashion. Don’t simply dive in. This will allow any adjustment to be made at the pace that best suits you.
Self-awareness is a vital aspect when it comes to any form of recovery. Pay attention to what makes you feel comfortable and nourishes your confidence. Bring these aspects into your day to help build courage to face the prospect of in-person meetings.
Agree Smaller Meetings
There is, of course, a need to get back into the swing of things so meetings cannot be avoided. With that in mind, focus on smaller meetings at first, before building to larger events. Steer clear of conferences or major presentations to large groups. Keep things small and manageable, preferably meetings with people you already know and feel comfortable with. Then build upwards from that.
What Can Employers Do
Find out how staff actually feel about returning to work. Make it safe for people to speak up, perhaps by carrying out anonymous surveys. These insights can influence your next steps, like informing employees of the precautions the company is taking. The point is that anxious employees will know they are heard and respected.
Give staff greater flexibility in terms of their office-based work. They will already have gotten used to working from home so the chance to strike a flexible arrangement would be welcomed. According to a survey from Flexjobs, some 58% of participants confirmed that they “would absolutely look for a new job” if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely”. The survey revealed that 65% wanted to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, while 33% preferred a hybrid working model.
Provide A Reason Why
Like so many other conditions, anxiety can be overcome through understanding and clarity of reason. So, it’s important to articulate a clear message to employees regarding the reasons for returning to the office. Communication is key, not least sharing the vision from upper management so employees see it as reasonable and can get on board. The worst thing is to make employees feel they ‘must’ return and have no choice.
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