A survey* of more than 2,000 people* has found that over two thirds (68%) of Brits agree that UK businesses should give workers the choice to work from home or in an office where possible and of those, 41% say that it would improve the population’s mental health. Fifty percent also said people may not feel safe returning to the office.
The survey shows 76% of office workers do not wish to return to the office full-time and a third (33%) report that if they had to go back permanently they would look for other roles. Over 23% indicated that if they had to go back to the office permanently, they would consider leaving or resigning.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s the importance of staying connected and the need to look after our wellbeing. As we come out of a third lockdown and continue to work from home, it’s clear that the past year has definitely taken a toll on our mental health. But with the prospect of returning back to work and the ‘pre-pandemic normal’, many of us are experiencing return to work anxiety.
So why are we so worried about going back to work and what can we do about it? Employee wellbeing experts, Oak Engage and Behavioural Psychologist at Durham University, Dr Mario Weick share their top tips on beating that return to work anxiety and above all improving happiness as we start to return to normal.
1. Know what support is available to you
It’s important to know what policies and procedures are in place at your company and your rights to working during the pandemic and beyond.
Mario comments: “People should familiarise themselves with the latest health and safety measures put in place during the pandemic. Knowing what exactly is happening can increase one’s sense of control, which in turn reduces anxiety.”
Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage adds: “As well as policies and procedures, check what practical advice is being offered by your workplace. We’ve created a wellbeing guide for all companies to help support a healthy work environment. Whether you’re back to work or you’re still working remotely, it’s critical to try and promote wellbeing in the workplace.”
2. Routine, routine, routine
The pandemic has meant that everyone isn’t used to their normal routine, including work schedules and sleep patterns. So make sure you get back into the swing of things and give yourself time to adapt.
Mario comments: “Routines are powerful devices that help us stay on track. Routines can boost happiness and wellbeing because they make it easier to achieve our goals.
During the pandemic, many of us found it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep routine. Disturbances of the circadian rhythm often go hand in hand with feeling down or anxious. Re-establishing our day and night routines can be a way to reset our biological body clock and return to our pre-pandemic self.”
3. Be kind to yourself and others
Be kind to your mind and body. Exercise is key for tackling stress and even going for a 15 minute walk can reduce anxiety. But remember to take it easy and don’t put too many expectations on yourself and your exercise routine. Curb those negative thoughts and self-doubt.
Mario adds: “Self-compassion is an antidote to anxiety and depression. Self-compassion implies being less self-critical and more kind and understanding toward oneself. People who are self-compassionate reach out to others when they are feeling down or are having a hard time. Taking a moment to reflect and label one’s thoughts as ‘useful’ or ‘not useful’ before letting them go can be a way to beat self-criticism.”
On exercising, Mario adds: “There is ample evidence that physical activity boosts wellbeing. Now is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and perhaps explore ways to commute to work that involve cycling or walking.”
4. Focus on the positives
Mario comments: “It can also help to focus on the benefits of going back to work. For example, the workplace can provide an opportunity to connect with other people. Being physically present may help others who have struggled with isolation during the pandemic.”
“One thing that the pandemic has taught us is the pleasure of simple things such as seeing friends or being outside and enjoying nature. Perhaps the pandemic has also given us new perspectives on work that will ultimately benefit our work/life balance.”
If you feel you need more support, ask your GP or another health professional for support. There are also some charities that can offer help and advice including Mind and Samaritans.
Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage comments: “With the huge changes we’ve seen in the working climate as a result of the pandemic, it’s more crucial than ever to prioritise our mental health and wellbeing. As lockdown restrictions ease and the prospect of returning to the office becomes more of an issue, people need to start to think about their options.
“Through our research we wanted to highlight the importance of staying connected and the need for businesses to engage their people and empower them with the choice of whether they want to return to the office full-time or not. Products like Oak Engage’s intranet can help businesses connect their people, boost employee engagement and promote wellbeing, giving everyone a voice at a time when they need it most. This will be key now that the majority of people will want some sort of flexible working situation going forwards.”
*Survey by Oak Engage