Return to office anxiety? You’re not alone

Return to office anxiety happens when people feel overwhelmed and rushed in office environments after working from home - as the woman pictured does

If you’re feeling uneasy or anxious about working in a shared office, know that you are not alone. Over the last few years, we’ve shifted to new ways of working – with many opting to work in hybrid models or remote roles. When a new role or return to office policy means facing returning to the office, lots of people can feel anxiety for different reasons. 

This can be due to a variety of different reasons which can include feeling:

  • Uneasy about having social interaction with large groups of people
  • Uncertain about major changes taking place in your workplace
  • Nervous about how you perform at your job
  • Like you will be in constant competition with others

Our guide features a few ways to manage return-to-office anxiety so you can feel empowered and motivated when returning to the workplace.

Avoiding return to office anxiety

1. Think positive, and remind yourself of the pros

A great way of beating those return-to-office anxiety blues is by reminding yourself of all the great things about working with colleagues in a shared working space. For example you get;

  • Face-to-face support from your team
  • Benefit from social learning.
  • A routine that helps keep you focused.
  • To take advantage of impromptu ideas sharing and collaboration.

2. Communicate with your co-workers and management team

Keep in mind that you are not going through this alone and often your feelings and experiences are shared amongst your team members. Communicate how you are feeling so that others can help where possible – that goes for both managers and co-workers! We have advice to help you talk about mental health and worries at work. If your anxiety is too much to manage on your own and you are finding these changes overwhelming, seeking professional help can also provide great strategies to deal with anxiety.

3. Be understanding to yourself and others

Try to be understanding with yourself and others while coping with return to office anxiety. Everyone feels this differently – and what works for some might not work for others. It may take longer for someone to adjust to returning to the office. Mistakes will happen especially as this is a completely new challenge for most workplaces and teams. The transition back to the office will never be perfect so it’s important to exercise as much understanding as possible.


Supporting employees with return to office anxiety

It can be hard to know how best to support an employee with a mental health issue or a worry, especially if you haven’t experience the same personally. Here are a few things to keep in mind with some practical ways of offering support to your employees or team.

1. Honesty is the best policy as we return to offices

The transition from remote working to office-based work days may cause feelings of anxiety or tension amongst employees. A great way to tackle this is by remaining as open and honest as possible. With this, ask your team for input on what works and what doesn’t for them, they don’t feel blindsided by any major changes that take place which can contribute to increasing anxiety levels.

2. Keep the lines of communication open

A great way to keep employees calm and manage their stress is to communicate clearly and openly. Similarly, make a conscious effort to communicate with your team often to avoid anyone feeling left out. This gives them lots of opportunities to open up about specific things they find difficult and need support with. Your team will appreciate feeling able to be open, being heard and being made a part of the process. By including them in the decision-making process, all members of the team can be catered to.

We recommend giving your employees as much lead time as possible for any major changes in the workplace, like bringing in a return to office policy or incentivising office hours. This gives them time to organise childcare, sort out details for their commute and develop a new morning routine if necessary.

3. Show empathy even if you don’t share their worries

It is important to acknowledge that as a team leader you may not know or understand everything a team member is going through, but that you are still hear to support them. It’s imperative to exercise empathy wherever possible and display a sense of understanding if a team member displays vulnerability or any signs of distress.

4. allow flexibility for a diversity of needs

Allow managers the freedom and discretion to be responsible for their teams’ schedules. This freedom will allow them to meet the needs of each individual team member. No two people are the same – and parenthood, caring responsibilities, mental and physical health vary for everyone. Managers can work with each team member to agree productive and sustainable office time if its’ a needed part of their teams’ role. 

5. Build in benefits for a great office working environment

A great way to shift the focus from anxiety to excitement is focussing on the positive activities. This could include team-building, rewards or perks like breakfast. Some say that workplace friendships are often the secret behind a happy workforce. A great way to ensure the company’s morale is high and that the employees are happy is through hosting structured team building, learning and development and social events. Helping employees interact and promote a company culture.

Going back to the office may not be easy for some, but there are different ways to alleviate the anxiety. One of the most important tools is communication and being open and honest about how you feel. Making efforts to be proactive and engage in conversation can help mitigate these negative effects as we go into yet another transition in our lives. Both team members and team leaders need to address this change through conversation. By speaking to one another, shared experiences and feelings can often alleviate anxious feelings about returning back to the office.

Looking for more mindfulness and mental health advice? Check out more of our tips here.

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