How to Manage Employee Anxiety About Returning to the Office

March 10, 2022
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How to Manage Employee Anxiety About Returning to the Office
Jacquelyn Wong
March 10, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed not just the workplace but the entire world over the last two years. While many businesses turned to remote work during various government shutdowns, many are meeting in person again. Returning to the office after COVID shutdowns might cause your employees added stress and anxiety.

A survey of over 600 working professionals found that 48% said working in a shared office space during the pandemic caused them to feel some or high stress – that’s nearly half of the respondents. According to workplace wellness expert and author, Janice Litvin, “...these reactions to stress add up to lowered levels of productivity, increased number of health insurance claims, and many people quitting their jobs.”

Employees are concerned about personal safety, endangering their family’s health, or financial stability should they choose not to return to the office. Managers and leaders must address these concerns to maintain a functioning, productive company.

In this article, we’ll walk you through some strategies to monitor and support your employees as they transition back into the office.

Masked woman takes a break outside of work to relieve stress

Managing Employee Anxiety

Fear and anxiety do not foster a positive working environment. For employees to be the most productive and efficient versions of themselves, consider implementing these tactics to better understand and manage overall employee anxiety:

Determine Where Your Employees Stand

Before officially returning to the office and meeting in person, employers should gather information directly from their employees regarding policy changes, expectations, and potential safeguards.

Go about collecting this information anonymously to fully learn where employees stand on certain issues; employees may not be truthful if their names are attached. After collecting this data, use these insights to address concerns and validate opinions. For instance, if several employees are concerned about working in close proximity to other co-workers, enforce office social distancing practices to ease those concerns.

Provide a Clear Plan

Develop a plan or work policy for returning to the office. If your employees are worried about their health, provide employee health screenings or implement social distancing practices. The bottom line: Listen to their needs and find a solution for them. Whatever your company decides to enforce, make it known to your team, with clear expectations on both ends.

Communicate Openly and Transparently

Since the start of the pandemic, employees have asked for more open-ended, transparent communication from their employers – a trend that’s here to stay. Being vague about policies, practices, or expectations may only cause more worry and concern for employees.

After solidifying a transition or safety plan, communicate your new policy to everyone throughout the company. If your employees have questions or hesitations, address those promptly and communicate the company’s response. Open and ongoing communication will allow employees to feel heard, have concerns addressed, and ultimately, will help reduce overall anxiety about returning to the office.

A group of diverse masked colleagues meeting in person to discuss work policies in the office

Implement Safety Precautions

Several companies have already implemented health and safety precautions to keep employees safe, reduce the spread of COVID-19, and ease anxiety about meeting in person. Take a look at just some of the interventions companies across the globe have implemented to mitigate health risks:

  • A hybrid work model that allows workers to choose between early and late shifts
  • Approving sick-leave requests
  • Managing common spaces
  • Having a protocol set in place if an employee tests positive for COVID-19
  • Requiring daily health screenings
  • Installing proper HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning)
  • Implementing contactless services and operations

As mentioned, instituting daily employee health screenings and enforcing office social distancing are just two changes you can make. In addition, consider how common spaces are used, what the procedure looks like if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, how often your team will be in the office, etc. By following recommended guidelines, business leaders can help keep employees safe while also minimizing anxiety about returning to the office.

Be Flexible 

Where possible, be flexible. When the office is first opening up, provide employees with work environment options. Given what everyone has been through over the last couple of years, easing back into things can go a long way toward alleviating anxiety.

Many companies have adopted a flexible working model, allowing employees to work remotely and in the office when appropriate. While it may sound like chaos for managers and other team leaders, businesses can streamline and organize this process with desk booking software like OfficeTogether.

Through OfficeTogether, employees can “book” their desk or conference rooms, allowing managers and department heads to see exactly who will be in the office, what meetings are taking place, and which employees are working remotely that day. With seamless integration, OfficeTogether allows employers to be flexible with employees during this transition back to the office.

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