Anxious about returning to the workplace

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Q: I am being asked to return to the office in July/August, after working at home because of the COVID-19.  I am nervous and have anxiety about working in a cubicle-type environment.  We don’t have an EAP, or else I would have called them.  My manager is telling us we have to return.  I don’t get it.  We have been working fine, working from home.  How can I reduce my anxiety and should I approach my manager to ask for a reprieve?

A:  I think many of us will have some level of anxiety returning to a workplace.

Most of our clients are returning to their workplaces in a very cautious manner.  It may be helpful to ask your manager what precautions your employer has instituted.  Most companies have been planning for a return to the workplace.  Some have increased social distancing.  Others are only inviting a certain percentage back to the workplace every two weeks.  While others are offering staggered work hours.  Some are also requiring masks and enhancing office cleaning practices.

I consulted Trudy L. Good, Director of Good Havens, a clinical psychologist in the Boston area. Good shared some recommendations for helping reduce your anxiety.  Some strategies to consider:

  • don’t work through breaks; instead take a break away from your desk, walk outside if possible
  • learn some stretching and chair yoga that you can do at your desk when you find you are physically tense or feeling restless
  • learn some deep breathing techniques; download a mindfulness app on your phone and use it if you find yourself getting anxious, agitated or overwhelmed
  • drink water throughout your work day; hydration keeps your brain functioning at its best
  • take a moment to laugh with your co-workers in a physically distant way

One of Good’s insights resonated with me quite a bit.  “Work routines are likely going to be different than the work routines you had pre-COVID-19.  Just like there were adjustments working from home, there will be adjustments returning to your workplace.”  Good continues,

“Part of the challenge of managing work anxiety is managing our anxiety overall.  The more we do to reduce our general anxiety, the easier it will be to reduce our anxiety while we are at work.”

Finally, many workplaces are soliciting input from their employees.  You can also offer suggestions or ask questions in a reasonable and professional way.  Most of our clients are trying to work through a myriad of challenges and there will be hiccups along the way.  There is no precedent for this pandemic.  We are all learning.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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