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The Anxiety of Returning to Work After the Pandemic

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

anxiety present as employees return to work

As states begin the return-to-work phase of the post pandemic, anxiety and fear are heightened more than ever. 66% of people in a recent survey, are uncomfortable returning to work in the current environment and 48% do not plan to return to work until August or later (Gagliordi, 2020). “Uncertainty and unpredictability can really create an unhealthy amount of fear and stress, especially when it’s sustained over such a long period of time” (Scahill, 2020). The challenge is so much bigger than creating safety measures to ease employee’s fear of contracting the virus. With overwhelmed employees returning to work, there exist a variety of worries as are business owners.

a workplace culture of anxiety

“Fear manifests itself differently in different people. Consider that some of your employees may be worried about their aging parents they’re unable to see face-to-face; others are both afraid of losing their children and at wit’s end because they’re juggling child care and work; and then there’s fear about economic security or contracting the virus.” (Blakely, 2020). Most employees will enter the workplace on heightened alert, leaning on management to make them feel safe. Others will walk in with chips on their shoulders not wanting any precautions to take away their rights. Then there is the whole racial violence thing going on, creating a volatile environment resulting in discontentment for everyone. It is a quite a conundrum to say the least.

business owners are individuals with anxiety too

There are the business owners; individuals themselves with their own set of fears and anxieties. The fear of losing their business drives them to reopen to employees who may not be ready to return to work. Many business owners simply cannot wait any longer or they will lose their businesses permanently. Considerations for safety policies and how far reaching they should be, add to their anxiety. Should they include the mental health aspect and if so, just how do they do that? Social distancing will cut down productivity and increase restlessness due to employee’s perceptions of just how safe the workplace is. Opposing, misplaced objectives, will surface creating tension in most businesses. Business owners have both the employee experience to consider along with the customer experience. The hard, cold truth is that business owners must make decisions and if they do not, then that is a decision.

“You don’t need to leverage natural disasters. You don’t need to capitalize on civil rest. You need to be human. It’s not always about business.” – SCOTT STRATTEN

be a servant leader

Each person’s fear comes from their own personal experiences and mindset. When you keep this in mind, you can address each person with understanding and compassion. Approaching the sensitive issues surrounding reopening businesses, with grace enables you to lead with love and employees will be more forgiving and flexible. Having a servant leadership mindset is crucial during these fragile times. Leading with grace means that you are putting your employees and clients before you and your business. The ironic thing is, that when you do this, the best possible outcome results. “As the story about Eleanor Roosevelt suggests, to be gracious is to make others feel at ease—to selflessly provide others, in a sense, the opportunity to feel graceful themselves.” (Ryan, 2017). Grace will help you find your way whether you are the business owner, the employee, or the customer.

Below are some things for individuals to consider when returning to work. This list is not specifically for employees or business owners but for all individuals as we work through this maze to establish what our tomorrow looks like.

(1) Don’t blame others; take responsibility

Be mindful of your attitude and communication style when dealing with others. Everyone has their own story and everyone’s story has pain and suffering in it. Some may have overcome, but many have not. Each personality style handles adversity differently. Try to understand their style and respond accordingly. It is not about pride or getting someone to believe your viewpoint. It is about compassion, leading with grace and putting those around you at ease.

(2) Listen to others, not just verbally but be aware of their body language

Expect restlessness and anxiety and respond with a quiet confidence. If others around you seem happy and unworried, acknowledge that you notice this and how it makes you feel relaxed and focused. It is not easy for anyone to be relaxed right now so be aware that they are having to make a conscious effort. This will go a long way in their mindset to stay positive.

(3) Don’t engage in the water cooler gossip about the negativity in the world

When others approach you to talk about all the negativity in the world, graciously and in a smooth, nonthreatening way, steer the conversation to more productive or positive subjects. This could be an opportunity to ask questions about how they are dealing with stress and gently offer tips or suggestions like inviting them to take a walk at lunch or play tennis after work. If someone wants to talk about their fears or stress, listen intently and ask questions. The objective is to get them involved in coming up with solutions.

(4) Focus on staying or improving your physical and mental health

Eating right, getting enough physical movement and sleep, and working on stress management for taking care of your mental health, goes a long way to improving fear and anxiety. Work towards being the one others want to follow. Now that’s true leadership whether you are in management or not. Try to get a 30-day health challenge of some sort going at work, one that has daily group access support through a discussion board or social media private group. Remember, we are all on the same team.

(5) Training/coaching provides an affordable option for emotional well-being

“Employees need to feel empowered and safe addressing their emotional well-being with their boss or co-workers.” (Patton, 2020). Employees need to move from the fear zone to the learning zone and an employee experience coaching program can accomplish this goal. Business owners may not know how to handle the mental health needs of employees returning to work.

Having a coach work with your employees, providing training and support, will create more productivity, quality customer service and a less tense workplace environment. This in turn, creates a better bottom line and leaves the business owners to handle the needs of the business.

“Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.” – PEMA CHODRON

“Be the encourager. The world has plenty of critics already.” – DAVE WILLIS

Many years my friend, many years….

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