The changes forced upon everyone by the pandemic are having lasting effects that go beyond changes to our routine. Many people are struggling with re-engaging in the office. The new normal is not going to look like the old normal everyone was used to. What are the psychological effects of returning to the office?
According to a recent article in the Harvard Gazette, “Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have long predicted that once the pandemic’s acute phase eased and its physical impacts lessened, there would be mental health fallout.”
According to Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, “Now, after hunkering down, when you go outside that can feel threatening. There also can be almost a grief or sadness because things that were normal don’t feel the same … I think that’s part of the changes we’re all going through right now.”
For many people who were isolated during the pandemic, returning to work is a stressor and cause of anxiety. Employers will need to be patient and work with employees who are struggling with returning to the office. Either internally or through a third party, dedicate the time to understand how to be supportive. The more you work with employees to get back to the office in a safe way, both mentally and physically, the stronger your culture will be moving forward.
About this, Koenen mentions, “We’ve all gone through a tremendous amount of change and stress this past year, in lockdowns, in changes to the way we work, live, in every aspect of our lives. And now we’re being asked to change back. It’s a time of tremendous change, and it’s good to remind ourselves that all change is stressful.”
While you want to work with employees on returning, it’s also important to remember that avoidance heightens anxiety. Thus, while it will be uncomfortable for some people when asked to return to the office, that is something people will need to work through. As long as the process keeps safety as the top priority, individuals need to work through their initial concerns.
One bright spot as the starts and stops of returning to the office has continued for months now is the innovation companies are uncovering to keep productivity and engagement high with employees. Employee surveys are becoming commonplace and the feedback loop between executives and employees is growing stronger.
It’s hard to predict when we will see a return to the new normal everyone is anticipating. The Delta and Omicron variants have slowed the return to office plans, and in some cases are forcing events to be canceled. The longer it takes to get back to the office, the more work employers need to do to ensure everyone is comfortable with new arrangements and protocols.
“It’s really hard. … We like to feel like we’re in control, we like to think we can predict the future,” Koenen said. “The challenge is we all are going to have to live with a certain amount of uncertainty.”
If you’d like help with your decision-making around returning to the office or have questions about building a culture of trust and empowerment or looking for an executive recruiter to help build out your team, send us a note.