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Preparing Employees For Returning to the Office?

The message at the start of September from the central government was direct; it’s safe to go back to the office, and what’s more, the consequences of not doing so could be detrimental to both our local economy and our careers and just a few weeks later we were asked to work from home again if we could.

After months of changing messaging from the very clear ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’, to the more interpretive, ‘Stay Alert’, the most recent communication theme, is at best confusing and to some a source of further anxiety.  

The Challenges of Working From Home in a Pandemic

Many of us feel mentally exhausted after six months of staying at home and trying to work, whilst managing responsibilities of children, concerns for older relatives, sub-optimal living circumstances and possibly illness and grief.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for some business areas has skyrocketed, putting pressure on staff to replace their commute time with longer working hours. Some faced empty order books and have frantically focussed on re-engineering to survive in a virtual world. Some have sadly closed, temporarily, accompanied by furlough schemes or redundancy or otherwise.  If not our physical health, our mental health has certainly been challenged, moving away from what is ‘normal mental health’ for us on the continuum, as we manage changes to our life, never before experienced. 

Organisations have learnt a lot during the Coronavirus pandemic; many roles can be performed virtually without impacting performance or productivity and there are benefits to the flexibility this provides, but managing a virtual team well requires skills we may not have developed. Working from home isn’t for everyone, certainly not on a full-time basis.  We tell ourselves we are ready to ‘get back to normal’, but when faced with the opportunity to do so, we are hesitant, uncertain and question the rationale.  Why is this and what can we do about it in the workplace?

Preparing to Get Back Into the Office

Working life has changed; public transport now involves a host of possible concerns over and above timetable logistics, social distancing means that our offices look different and the in-person social contact we have with colleagues both within and outside of the office is restricted. Even our coffee station or ‘water cooler’ moments may be deemed an unacceptable risk.

The physical symptoms that accompany these typical concerns may be similar to those accompanying an anxiety diagnosis including fatigue, worry, low confidence, but for most what we will actually be experiencing is situational anxiety; a multi-dimensional state that occurs specifically in relation to a situation, when our Amygdala, part of the emotional brain, overpowers the cognitive brain.

In the workplace, it is helpful that we understand this response, so we can get good at noticing changes in ourselves and others, that might suggest a movement away from our mental health, caring enough to start a conversation and kind enough to listen. Skilled conversations and intense listening are a very welcome intrusion during these challenging times of increased pace, rushed meetings and lack of human contact. This medium alone might just make a difference for a colleague, but it could also open the door to signposting and support.

This concept sounds straightforward, but we know that it isn’t easy, particularly in a working world where we have lost much of our certainty.  Mental Health at Work is a community interest company, who run customised virtual and face to face mental health programmes to support behavioural and attitudinal change around workplace mental health.  

How a Mental Health Programme Can Help Your Business

Our facilitated virtual workshop on Situational Anxiety is one of a suite of specialist topics that we’ve developed in response to client needs in light of the global pandemic.  We work with organisations of all sizes to provide an understanding of the topic and explore what this may mean for them and the considerations to ensure that we manage mental health as we move back to an adjusted world of work.
If you would like to find out more, please contact us at or visit our website

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