A year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are having conversations regarding what returning to working in the office looks like. While the vaccine rollout has been encouraging, new variants of the virus leave many people uncertain as to when it will be safe to return to the office, gather without masks, and get back to life as we knew it before the pandemic.

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A recent American Psychological Association (APA) study revealed that nearly half of U.S. adults say they do not feel comfortable going back to living life as they had before the pandemic began, and another half feel uncomfortable adjusting to in-person interactions. In addition, 48% of those who have been vaccinated stated that they still felt uncomfortable with in-persons interactions.

A study by technology company, Envoy, revealed that 66% of employees are worried about their health and safety when it comes to returning to the workplace. In addition, 47% of employees would look for another job if their employer doesn’t offer a hybrid work model.

Andrea Raby, DO, Vice President of Psychiatry at Bayless Integrated Healthcare.z

Andrea Raby, DO, Vice President of Psychiatry at Bayless Integrated Healthcare, said employers should be open-minded as they navigate the return to the office. 

“The mental toll that the pandemic has taken on people is far greater than we might imagine,” said Dr. Raby. “Employees have varying levels of anxiety that need to be acknowledged. In addition, many remote workers have gotten used to the flexibility of working from home and may be anxious about more rigid schedules.” 

Dr. Raby said employers will need to devote a lot of time to easing the anxieties of employees, especially those who were already prone to anxiety before the pandemic. She offers these tips:

1. Be clear about the mental health resources available to employees and how to access them, especially if telehealth services are available.

2. Be transparent with safety tactics and protocols for keeping employees safe.

3. Include employees in on initial conversations about what a return to the office would look like and ask for their ideas.

4. Check in regularly with employees to assess their wellbeing or concerns and teach managers to spot troubled employees and how to initiate conversations to offer help.

5. Allow employees to visit the workplace on non-working days to get reacquainted with their routine and any new changes that may have taken place in the last year.

6. Create team building/bonding events to reintroduce everyone and get reacquainted.

7. Encourage all employees to be patient and nonjudgmental. No one can truly know how the pandemic has affected team members, and it may take some employees longer to feel safe and secure. 

“It’s going to be challenging for employers and employees alike,” Dr. Raby said. “It’s important to remember that we are social creatures and there are many benefits to working together in an office setting. Identifying ways to alleviate these stressors is an important first step in a successful transition back to in-office work.” 

Bayless Integrated Healthcare offers free 15-minute wellness consultations. For details, visit baylesshealthcare.com or call 602-777-6337.