There’s no getting around it—the future of the workplace is changing. For decades, American workers across nearly every industry shared at least one common reality: the office. The in-person workplace was where many of us spent the majority of our days. From 9 to 5—or in many cases, much longer—colleagues lived, worked, and breathed in the same space. But then, the pandemic came.
Since the spring of 2020, many Americans have learned how to work from home, working around the sounds and distractions of children, family members, and an often frustrating lack of personal space.
Now, workers are facing new anxieties as they navigate a return to the office—whether full-time or part-time—amidst the surge of the Delta variant.
Understandably, many workers are concerned about the mental health impacts of returning to the office. In a survey conducted in June by McKinsey, 41% of respondents said that they would need more than a week to prepare for a return to the office. For parents, the number jumped to 52%.
As employees across the country face anxieties about returning to the office during a still-evolving pandemic, here are some strategies to help the return feel safer:
Ask Your Employer About Their Updated Health and Safety Protocols: According to the McKinsey report, most workers are anxious about returning to work because of the risks associated with COVID-19: 87% of employees reported that workplace protocols following CDC recommendations are important to them. If you're still unsure about what exactly your workplace is doing to ensure a safe return to work—ask them. Getting all of the details cleared up can help to ease your anxieties. And if there are any precautions that aren’t being taken, start a conversation about which precautions should be taken that would help make you and your fellow employees feel safer.
Advocate for Flexibility: Though working from home was a significant adjustment for most Americans, many aren’t ready to lose the sense of autonomy and flexibility they gained in the process. In another study conducted by the Blackhawk Network, 84% of respondents said that they will require some virtual workplace flexibility from their employer in the future, while 41% said that having to return to a physical workplace would cause them to seek employment elsewhere. For employers, this data isn’t a secret. If keeping some work-from-home flexibility is important to you, talk with your employer about your options.
Get Tested Regularly: Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest self-reported fears about returning to work in-person is the risk of bringing the virus home to vulnerable or unvaccinated family members. Getting tested regularly (we can help with that) will help you stay on top of your status and keep your loved ones safe.
Reach Out For Support: No one is immune to the growing mental health pandemic which has become more concerning in the wake of COVID-19. Whether you’re new to mental health care or not, know that it’s OK to reach out for support. Some accessible resources include The Crisis Text Line and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Above all, be patient and generous with yourself because this time is unlike any other. Anxiety can be an inevitable part of the process, but know that there are resources there to help.