An American Psychological Association survey noted that nearly half of Americans (49%) feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends1. Anxiety from returning to a physical workplace can manifest itself in many different respects. Job stress can lead to deterioration in work relationships, decreased productivity, absenteeism, low morale, and increased substance abuse. Common indicators relate to uncertainty about the future, fear of being exposed to situations where one might feel unsafe about COVID risk, and worries about “new” requirements, such as wearing masks in the workplace. Some employees have realized that there are aspects of “physically-distanced” life that appeal to them, so it can be difficult to build up the mental muscle to “return to normal.”2 For parents, the transition period may be particularly challenging as they juggle work, childcare, and return-to-school activities in addition to their return to the office.
Organizational culture is an important differentiator of successful companies — and its impact has been highlighted since the pandemic. The most effective companies value their people, provide career growth, adapt to meet customer needs, and deliver great results to shareholders.3 They want employees to be comfortable with being honest about their concerns. Managers and leaders should try to connect with employees and create an environment in which personal questions and concerns can be freely expressed without fear of stigmatization or retribution. Successful companies promote a culture that fosters an open exchange of ideas and flexibility while setting clear expectations and providing appropriate support (whether it is mental health, financial, or caregiving resources).
As you develop your return to workplace programs, ask if your culture is helping to move employees’ thoughts in a positive direction. Additionally, keep in mind:
- The need to support physical safety as well as psychological safety and promote employees’ desire to thrive in our new reality.
- Communication is key – an individual’s thoughts have significant sway over how one feels and acts.
- Know that anxiety and depression are treatable clinical conditions. Convey these beliefs to all managers and employees.
- Work as a team to create a wellness plan and routinely monitor progress towards goals.
- Seek advice from your consultants on the best online tools you can offer employees and their dependents for self-evaluation of anxiety and depression.
- If there are any changes of an urgent matter or psychological concern, strongly encourage your employee to get immediate help or seek assistance from their primary care physician (PCP) or employee assistance program (EAP) provider.
- Practice yoga, stretching exercises, and meditation and encourage employees to do these things as well.
Want to dig deeper? This article provides insights on the mental health impact of the pandemic on families and helpful tips for employees as concerned parents. Learn about signs of suicide, how to support those experiencing these signs, and where to direct them to find help here.
1Stress in America™: One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Health Concerns (apa.org)
2How to Deal with Reopening Anxiety as COVID-19 Restrictions End — MyWellbeing
3 How To Sustain And Strengthen Company Culture Through The Coronavirus Pandemic (forbes.com)
This document is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered legal or tax advice or legal or tax opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Readers are urged to consult their legal counsel and tax advisor concerning any legal or tax questions that may arise.
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