Return to Work Fears: What You Need to Know

career advice Aug 11, 2021
woman carrying briefcase and mask

Now that many workplaces are re-opening or considering redesigning their workplaces to accommodate hybrid workers better, what's weighing heavily on most employees' minds is the desire NOT to return the workplace place at all. With nearly 1 in 5 workers undecided about whether or not to get the vaccine and about 60% of US workers expressing discomfort with returning to the workplace, the idea of returning presents quite a quandary for many employees.

In addition, a life free of long and frustrating commutes, laid-back morning and evening daily routines involving litter more than brushing your teeth and dressing in loungewear, as well as greater availability and time with family have caused many to redefine their priorities and how they'd like to spend a typical workday.

Many employers are working diligently to figure out what to do to remain competitive and keep their workforce safe and satisfied with their employment. Over 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams.  With the great resignation looming in the mind of many employers, 66 percent of leaders are working on redesigning their workplace to at least accommodate a hybrid work environment. 

To continue to feel engaged and safe while enjoying the flexibility enjoyed while working remotely, I'm providing some thoughts on managing this impending transition. 

1. Manage Your Fear by Focusing on What You Want

Our brains like patterns and routines because it helps us make sense of the world and keeps us safe. When there's too much uncertainty, we feel anxious, and when we feel anxious, we become distracted and potentially ineffective. To manage that fear, you have to manage your thoughts. The fears you're anticipating haven't come to fruition, so there's no need to worry and panic about them now. Instead, use this time to think about what you want your work-life to look like and begin crafting a plan to achieve that.

First, get clear on whether your workplace will allow you to continue to work remotely or if they're implementing a hybrid or flexible work solution, and if your position qualifies for either option. Next, map out what you want if you're required to head back into the office. For example, do you want to adjust work hours to avoid lengthy commute times or be available for your family? Do you need to work from home one, two, or three days a week to help maintain any routines you've created while working remotely? Whatever it is, get clear and create a plan that you can talk over with your manager.

Get my FREE Request to Continue to Work Remotely Email if you want some ideas on approaching your manager.

2. Get Clear on Your Specific Fears

What exactly is causing your fear? Is it getting the virus if you go in, is it losing visibility if you work from home, is it traveling if that's a job requirement, is it the disruption in your established work or life routines?

Your ability to continue to work 100% from home, hybrid, or 100% back in the office depends upon your role, position, and to some extent, your ability to negotiate. Contact your HR department and explore any existing or new HR policies that have been developed around COVID and workplace safety. Research new EEOC or FLSA (Fair Labor Standard Act) regulations that have been created to determine if they apply to your situation.

The more informed you are, the easier it will be to have a conversation with your manager about it to alleviate any specific fears you may be experiencing now. But, again, communication is critical, so maintain an open dialogue and be sure to get answers to any lingering questions you may have.

3. Manage Your Boundaries to Remain Productive

While studies have shown that employee productivity has increased with employees working from home, we've also seen increasing levels of burnout and stress because employees have not done an excellent job of managing their boundaries or been successful at turning work off. In addition, the lack of any clear distinction between work life and home life has presented several challenges.

If you'll continue working remotely or will shift to hybrid work, get clear on your boundaries and be sure to communicate them clearly to others. Even if you plan to return to the office, you may want to create more structure around how you work to continue to be as productive. For example, minimize those impromptu meetings or disruptions by co-workers randomly "dropping" by your office. Creating boundaries gives you more control over your work-life and will potentially increase your productivity and efficiency. This, in turn, can increase your bargaining power to adjust your work environment. 

4. Manage Your Mental Health & Self-Care

You can not minimize the emotional significance of the last 18 months. So if you're still thinking or waiting to "get back to normal" or to resume "business as usual," you're setting yourself up for a big letdown.

You may find that the process of getting up earlier and preparing for work to be tedious, or that you're more exhausted during the day or at the end of the day or irritated by workflow disruptions in the office, or you may be missing your mid-day walks with your dog. If you've created some self-care routines while working remotely successfully, do not abandon these practices because your work environment is changing.

Prepare to prioritize your mental and emotional health during the transition by easing your way into any changes or disruptions in your regular routines. For example, if taking walks was a helpful practice, use your lunch or breaks to continue getting that vitamin D. Keep your morning routines and wardrobe simple in the morning and implement structure and boundaries around your day, as previously discussed. 

Above all else, be compassionate with yourself. Don't beat yourself up or expect too much of yourself. Instead, take your reentry at a pace that's best for you and get support when you need it.

Watch my segment on Return to Work Fears on AM Northwest! 

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