Show of hands please – who has gotten so used to comfy clothes and unrestrictive attire this last year? Yep – us too.
Who is feeling a little bit nervous about returning to human contact again, and visiting the office we once thought of as a safe place to work?
You are not alone; going back to “normal” is bound to create some fears and anxieties.
The pandemic has created a culture of a far more relaxed approach to work wardrobes, and we are approaching the time where we all need to dust off those smart/casual dresses, jackets, trousers and even dare we say it – ties!!
If you’re about to face colleagues and clients in the three-dimensional world again, possibly for the first time in over a year, its entirely natural to feel disconcerted by this.
Whether you have been working remotely, furloughed or even continued to travel to work every day, the post-lockdown workplace environment will look very different to how it was pre-lockdown.
You may feel anxious about returning to commuting and the stress and pressure that brings, or worried about leaving a much loved pet home alone after they have become used to you being around all day, or you may just feel perturbed by the thought of having to spend so much time with other people, when you are used to it being just you and the dog (insert your own favourite animal here!!).
There are some people who cannot wait for lockdown and restrictions to end once and for all, with around 37% of workers looking forward to returning to normal life according to research by Anxiety UK, while just over 20 per cent are feeling anxious about returning to work.
This indicates that the majority of people are between the spectrum of slightly nervous to full blown anxiety about returning to work.
What is reassuring is that UK businesses have much improved changes in attitude about mental health and wellbeing, especially in the workplace. The ability to vocalise that a bit of self care and kindness towards others is needed is welcomed and acknowledged, and attitudes towards flexible working, and working remotely have changed for good and for the better.
The end of restrictions doesn’t mean the end of the challenges, and in fact, it is likely that it is just the beginning of a whole load of new challenges to manage and cope with. Establishing good habits and practices that maintain a healthy balance of mental and physical health and wellbeing is critical to ensuring you are doing what you can to stay well.
Here are some self-care tips to help you cope with just some of the key things employees and employers are feeling anxious about:
Workwear vs Activewear
Those stretchy leggings may not be acceptable office attire for your company. You may find that giving your work wardrobe a little overhaul boosts your confidence, and enables you to present the best image of yourself, particularly on that first day back in the office. In addition, wearing something more structured but still comfortable will shift your mindset from home office to work office as well.
Close contact with colleagues again
After 15 months of Houseparty, Face Time, WhatsApp groups and online quizzing, it’s going to be strange and perhaps even a little awkward seeing our work team in real life.
However, although it is overwhelming to cope with the shift in virtual to reality, everyone has been through the same traumatic and challenging experience (although arguably some more than others of course). The pandemic has brought with it tragedies and bereavements to cope with, conflicts to overcome, loneliness and separation from loved ones – and undoubtedly a constant demand on many to suddenly become “teacher”, IT Manager, video conferencing expert and acknowledging that is important.
It’s not realistic to expect to suddenly go back to how things were before COVID-19. Lower your expectations of being able to just jump back in to start talking to colleagues and take time to build up to the way you used to and sharing news and updates about your life. And, always remember that everyone will be feeling the same.
If you are worried about people getting too close to you, it is now acceptable to politely step back from someone who may be a little too close for your comfort. That way, you are not acting confrontationally and more as a self-protection mechanism.
Supporting your colleagues when they need it
Being a line manager in lockdown has been challenging, too, and now leaders are having to adapt to the need to support their team as they return to the new work-life structure.
This is complicated by the fact that some people will be raring to go back to work and excited to see everyone, some will be nervous and anxious about the whole situation and some will be a mixture of the two.
Line managers will need to be mindful that if someone on their team is resisting returning, or appearing hesitant about coming back to the workplace, the reason for this may not be indolence, they may be feeling extremely anxious about it.
Everyone is different and will therefore process the transitional changes into their new work life at a different pace. Keep your expectations reasonable and give them time to adjust and adapt. Keep lines of communication open with them all, ask they how they are feeling, and look at where you can adjust things for them to help them take their own pace.
Everyone can play a key part though in supporting their colleagues. If you see someone is struggling, or is perhaps a bit quiet or appears stressed, reach out to them either over an email (if you are not sure how they would respond to talking face to face), offer to make them a cuppa and a chat, or invite them for a lunchtime stroll.
Some fun team building activities that are easy to implement are a good idea, ideally ones that reinforce the company’s values and ethos.
Catching up on plans and projects
Working during the pandemic has had a multitude of challenges. Communicating virtually has kept the wheels turning and kept most businesses on track, however it is inevitable that face to face interaction is better for keeping your finger on the pulse of work projects and business strategy.
Keep a realistic expectation of how quickly you can update yourself on everything that has been going on with everyone. Allocate time to spend with colleagues who can reconnect you with the goals and milestones you need to be mindful of.
How are you feeling about returning to public transport timetables, busy platforms and bus stops and delays and cancellations? This is one area that nobody enjoys, so again, you will not be alone in feeling uncomfortable about it. In fact, in a recent survey around 65% of British workers have said they are highly uncomfortable returning to commuting on public transport.
Think about alternatives to commuting:
- Can you walk, or cycle to the workplace? Even reducing the commute by a few stops can help reduce anxiety, and the added physical activity is proven to be beneficial to mental and physical wellbeing
- Look at changing your work pattern and talk to your line manager about changing your start and finish times so that you are not hitting rush hour
- Is there a less busy route that you can take, even if its for a short period of time? It may take slightly longer, but if it is less stressful and packed, it will be preferable, just while you adjust to the return to work
- Can you mix the need to be in the workplace with remote working on some days? Hybrid working is the new norm, and whilst returning to work in some capacity is inevitable, there is still the likelihood that remote working is possible for at least some of the week
Whatever business and industry you work in, it is important that you look after your mental health, and the mental health of your colleagues. How we interact with one another can have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing.