How do we really feel about returning to the workplace?

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As lockdown eases, we are starting to think about the return to work after lockdown.  For some this has been around 18 weeks away from the traditional workplace.  We know that it can feel daunting returning to work after a two-week holiday, so for some of our colleagues this is going to be quite unnerving.

What could they be worried about?

Some people will be feeling anxious, concerned about their own health whilst worried about transmitting the virus to their families.  They may be lacking in confidence regarding their return to the work environment if they have been working from home or off sick.  Maybe they have been away for extended periods due to shielding.

Some could be worried about the return to commuting to work, especially if they use public transport.  They could be worried about leaving the relatives they have been caring for during lockdown, or worried about their children going back to school or nursey.

We are seeing a worrying increase in the demand for counselling due to a deterioration in the UK’s mental health during the Covid-19 lockdown. Poor mental health has been exacerbated by the uncertainty and the on-going worry about the virus.  The knock-on effects on jobs and businesses can put a strain on families and relationships.

How can we support our colleagues?

We can support our colleagues by being mindful of the signs of anxiety.  Maybe they are resistant to returning to work, they may feel physically unwell due to the worry.  They could be quieter than usual or looking for lots of reassurance due to a dip in confidence.

We can help by asking them how they are, not just in passing, but by giving them our full attention and listening to their answers.  Does their answer match their facial expression, their tone of voice and their body language?  Sometimes we’re conditioned to answer the ‘how are you?’ question with, ‘I’m fine’, or ‘I’m ok’.  Maybe it would help to follow it up with, ‘are you sure?’ or express what you see; ‘you seem quieter than usual, is there anything on your mind?’

What if they do need support?

It can be helpful to signpost them to supportive apps, like Headspace or signpost them to wellmindsonline, where they can access some useful self-help guides, for instance to manage worry, improving sleep or relaxation exercises.

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