Returning to the workplace? How to navigate the anxiety-inducing transition

Coronavirus

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Working from home has been a relief for many Americans, but a return to office life awaits as some companies bring employees back to the workplace. With the return, people accustomed to remote work may feel anxiety about the transition. 

At the start of the pandemic, people felt confined to their homes, but eventually, they became the places folks felt the safest, especially during times of uncertainty.

Working from home has its perks: wearing pajama pants instead of slacks, taking morning meetings via Zoom, and feeling a sense of independence while working. 

However, this mandated social isolation took away the organizational identity and “social cohesion” of a typical workplace setting. 

“You don’t have that real human contact, and we’re social animals,” said Dr. Brandt A. Smith, associate professor of psychology at Columbus State University. “We do need it, and that’s probably why we’ve seen such an upsurge of mental health issues related to the lockdown and us being separate from each other for so long.”

After over a year of staying “logged in” to work via emails, text messages and Zoom, getting back to the workplace can actually help employees establish a firmer boundary between work and home life. Unplugging from work is crucial; the same technology that makes work easier can also be the catalyst for burnout. 

“What makes that a whole lot easier is having a clear delineation,” Smith said. “At 5 o’clock today, work is over. I go home. I go back to my home life, and work doesn’t follow me home.”

While some are eager for the return, others may feel apprehensive about safety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that people who are fully vaccinated can resume normal activities they did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or socially distancing.

However, those who are not are advised to continue to wear a face covering, wash their hands often and maintain safe distances from others — at least 6 feet away. They are also urged to get vaccinated.

Not knowing where your coworkers stand in terms of their commitment to safety can cause feelings of distrust or discomfort to creep in. Talking to your coworkers and employer about concerns is a good start.

Also, understanding your needs, then setting boundaries for yourself may feel uncomfortable at first, but gentle reminders can set the tone for workplace etiquette. 

“We’re not all the same,” Smith said. “Our comfort levels with it are going to be different as well. So try to be understanding with your colleagues and coworkers.”

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