Tips for Easing "Re-Entry Anxiety"
Each day more Canadians are transitioning from working in their home offices back to their physical work environments, some which haven’t had their doors darkened in 18 months or more. While we’re all looking forward to restoring the elusive “normal” everyone’s been talking about, many are struggling to manage the stress of returning to the workplace. Fears about using public transit and the increased risk of COVID-19 being in close proximity to others, uncertainty about expectations related to vaccinations, general resistance to change – especially in the wake of the many changes the labour force has already endured during the pandemic – these issues are having an impact that will echo for some time. Consider these simple concepts in working to reduce the negative effects of re-entry anxiety.
Assess (and modify) cultural norms
Now’s the time to preach, and most importantly practise work-life balance. Actions really do speak louder than words, so leaders must model it. Take your breaks and make breaks mandatory for all employees (none of that typing an email with one hand while scarfing down a sandwich with the other!). Show your team that regular time-outs are important and avoid setting a precedent where those who clock the most time at work are rewarded for their “dedication”; in reality, working significantly more hours than a standard workweek might make one presume high engagement and productivity, but in actuality when this kind of schedule turns in to habit the risk of burnout skyrockets. Make check-ins a regular occurrence, giving employees a non-threatening space to voice any concerns or challenges, which in itself helps the team to feel well supported.
The transition back to the workplace won’t be like flipping a switch. Understand that some employees will require more support than others, and some may experience long-term psychological distress related to a trauma response. Check your “shoulds” at the door – they don’t serve us well when it comes to health and safety at work and the highly individualized ways we bounce back following highly stressful, unanticipated events. There’s no timeline here. Imposing a rigid structure will drive a sense of panic for some. Anxiety takes countless shapes at work, including changes in mood and productivity, out-of-the-ordinary interactions with coworkers, and even physical changes like weight loss/gain and visible signs of exhaustion. A sense of collaboration and support means recognizing and valuing individual needs.
Shout out resources from the rooftops!
How well do your team members know their Employee Assistance Program? Outside of the EAP, where can employees go for support if they need it? Ideally you have designated individuals at all levels and in all departments who are trained in Mental Health First Aid, and are prepared to recognize signs of possible mental distress in their peers and effectively support them. Identify these folks – as well as supervisors, HR professionals and anyone else with the basic skills needed to navigate these conversations – so everyone in your workplace is aware of the resources at their disposal should they need them. Don’t worry about too much repetition – I’ve yet to see a workplace who overcommunicates about this, and consistency is key to getting the message across and having it stick.
On a positive note, although nobody asked for it leaders have gotten plenty of practice exercising their change management skills over the past year and half. As we strive to figure out what the word “normal” means within each of our organizations those skills aren’t ones we’ll be tucking away any time soon. Every one of your team members is dealing with different stressors and different responses, so patience and empathy are as vital as ever. Keep the communication lines open, and don’t forget to tune in to your own needs as well.
Thanks for reading, my friends! Have a great week and see you next week.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.