‘Back to the office’ is coming!

One thing’s for sure, whatever we’re returning to, it won’t be how it was before. There will likely be social distancing in place, potential mask-wearing and enhanced hygiene procedures to manage, not to mention people’s personal anxieties about mixing with so many people for hours at a time after a many months of being told to ‘keep safe’ by staying physically distanced at home. On top of that, many will be dealing with bereavement or other difficult experiences from the pandemic (such as financial problems or eviction), which all take time to process and come to terms with. It’s a lot to reconcile and, hopefully, the majority of businesses will recognize that, on a personal level for employees, it’s not all going to be as simple as flipping the switch and going back to ‘normal’.

Two sides to every situation
A return to a familiar office-based work routine will be just what some people need, especially those who have found that the lines between home and work had become blurred over the last year – and those who need relief from juggling working and home schooling. For these employees, it’s likely that their stress levels will begin to decrease once they’re physically working alongside their colleagues in the office once again.

Yet for others who have found that working from home is preferable to being in an office environment or who are particularly worried about catching Covid, their stress levels are likely to steadily increase as the date their employer has set for their return approaches…

Being aware of stress in the workplace
Workplace stress can take various forms. Going off sick is the obvious one, but subtle cognitive, emotional, behavioral or performance changes could result if an employee is stressed by their situation over an extended period of time.

A potential return to the office has just so happened to coincide with two awareness campaigns – Stress Awareness Month in April and Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK in May – ensuring that employee wellbeing is at the forefront of thinking as our collective circumstances begin to change. Awareness is the key on all levels, not just for managers. Looking out for colleagues and being supportive and thoughtful can go a long way to easing the path back into office life for everyone.

A recent research report from Benenden Health called “Mental health in the workplace” found that despite significant efforts to remove the stigma from mental health, it’s still a taboo subject at work. The pre-pandemic research found that fewer than 1 in 10 employees would confide in their employer if there were suffering from a mental health condition. And, despite the increased focus on our wellbeing in all situations, it’s safe to assume that this number won’t have changed significantly over the last year, especially in high pressure, competitive corporate environments.

For this reason, it’s especially important to be aware not just of our own mental health and how we deal with stress, but also be considerate of others and act with kindness towards them – even if your workplace hasn’t previously taken much trouble over the ‘touchy feely’ side of things. After the disruption that we’ve all encountered, Stress Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Week and the focus that they bring could be the perfect time to emphasize a more human side to corporate workplace life as we take the first steps back to whatever ‘normal’ is.  

Further reading