Written by Karen Cuttill, professional counselor at Dallas College.
As the time comes for most of us to return to our offices, our emotions may vary. Some are excited and happy to get “out of the house” and back to the office. Some have already returned and are looking forward to having more people come back. Others are experiencing anxiety or stress with how they will return to the office and manage their new COVID-19 responsibilities.
It is important that we all stop and take a deep breath of understanding and then move forward to the “new normal.”
Tip No. 1: Understand That Everyone Reacts Differently to the Situation
Coming from varied situations gives us each a unique perspective on returning to work. The first important tip is recognizing that we all do have different perspectives, emotions and situations. Allowing others to express their thoughts and not expecting everyone to share your personal viewpoint will be helpful in creating a support network for each other. Listen and learn about your colleagues’ needs, wants and stressors. You can increase the positive environment of your workplace by supporting and helping each other to adjust and, when possible, helping to meet the individual needs of your colleagues as they are returning to work.
Tip No. 2: Recognize the Possible Extremes Coworkers May Have
- Some people have been very comfortable working from home and may wish they could continue. People often find fewer distractions and more flexibility, and some even get more work done in the remote environment. (Think about those projects that you might work on late at night or early in the morning, without distractions.) Some people may work too much at home.
- Many people have been financially secure during this difficult economic time. But there are others whose partners may have been furloughed, lost businesses or are fighting unemployment. Every one of us came into this pandemic on a different level of financial security, and COVID-19 has impacted each family/person differently. Just because you work next to someone in a similar position does not mean they have the same security in their personal life. Try to be sensitive and understanding of a colleague’s situation even if they choose not to share the details with you.
- You may not personally know anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19; others may be experiencing anxiety about exposure to COVID for themselves or a loved one. Some may even be caring for a family member who has been diagnosed with the virus — or even recovering themselves. If you feel ill, have been exposed to COVID-19 or have been asked to self-quarantine, do not go to work. Do your part and inform your supervisor, and most importantly, take care of yourself!
- Introverts may love being secure in their setting, but extroverts may feel like their whole world has turned upside down. Appreciate colleagues for their varied personalities. Be as kind as you can. There is evidence that kindness increases positive feelings in the person receiving the kindness, but actually, the person being kind often benefits more than the recipient. There is also evidence that supports the theory that positive and kind people are healthier. We can certainly benefit from healthier bodies during the pandemic.
Tip No. 3: Be There for Others
- Supporting other team members is a positive action that can help build resiliency among your coworkers and customers. The support we give and feel from each other builds positive relationships that will impact the workplace for years to come. Or, if people do not feel supported, this can negatively impact your team and become an additional hurdle for future team relations.
- Some behaviors to notice that might indicate a need for additional support:
- Changes in attitude and personality. A social butterfly is now withdrawn or may be having trouble getting along with others.
- Changes in appearance. A coworker may not seem to take care of themselves like normal.
- Decreased productivity.
- Sadness or a drop in energy from their “usual” self.
Do not be afraid to ask a coworker if they are OK.
Tip No. 4: Anxiety? Know You Are Not Alone!
In the world of COVID-19, we may all feel a little bit of anxiety. It might be more abnormal to not feel some anxiety or at least acknowledge the stress in the “new normal.” There are many changes in our world and so many more things that are unknown and out of our control.
Many people experience anxiety often in their lives and have great coping skills. However, in a state of chronic stress (like a pandemic), these coping mechanisms may not be working as well as normal.
If this describes you, you are not alone. If it describes a colleague, let them know you care and that they are not alone either. Sharing your anxious feelings may help them feel not so alone.
Tip No. 5: Be a Team Player
- Good communication is even more important now. Help coworkers to know and understand procedures and precautions. Just letting someone know they were missed or thought about can make a person feel cared for and not alone.
- Actively support a variety of stress management techniques for your team. Let employees identify what helps them to cope with stress and give them that support when possible.
- Exercise, meditation, hobbies and finding a support group with similar interests and/or stress can be extremely helpful. The way we care for ourselves gives us the energy and ability to perform well in our workplace and everyday lives. It is even more important in a situation like COVID-19.
If your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), be sure to make use of this benefit. EAPs provides support for well-being in many ways. They also may provide free counseling services for all members of an employee’s family.
Your primary care physician can also help with suggestions and referrals. They often are the medical professional who helps people to manage stress, anxiety and even depression should it develop. After all, our mental and our physical bodies are connected.
Many insurance providers also offer mental health services that you can access directly. Confidentiality is practiced because it is important as well as required by law.
- “Can Random Acts of Kindness increase Well-being?” W. Stoerkel; Positive Psychology.com, April 4, 2019. https://positivepsychology.com/random-acts-kindness/
- “How sharing kindness can make you healthier & happier,” Mayo Clinic staff; Mayo Clinic Stress Management online publication, Nov. 1, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/how-sharing-kindness-can-make-you-healthier-happier/art-20390060
- Various internet articles for specific tips, actions and concerns for returning to the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic