How to Help Your Employees Manage and Overcome Their Return to Work Anxiety

As many areas in the world are in various stages of re-opening—in the midst of the ongoing pandemic—employers are developing plans to bring employees back to work in a safe environment to prevent workplace anxiety. 

The new world of work considerations includes everything from physical distancing and staggered start times to transportation plans and mental health awareness.

In May 2020, an American survey on Employee Perceptions on Returning to Work, conducted by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, reported 45% of employees felt afraid their employer will bring people back to work before it’s safe and 80% of employees wanted companies to make changes to protect employee health and safety before they’ll be comfortable going back to work. 

For employers, dealing with workplace anxiety is of the upmost importance to ensure their employees can do their best work while at the same time feel protected.

Aside from general health and safety, there are many other reasons employees may be feeling stress and having difficulty managing anxiety in the workplace. Some employees may be concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 and bringing it home to their family. Others may be in the at-risk category due to their age, health or living conditions.

During this unique time in history, employers need to recognize that separating work from personal may not be possible and acknowledge the underlying challenges everyone is dealing with. Because people process stress differently, the symptoms and reactions may present in unexpected ways. 

As things open back up and employees return to work, employers must take anxiety symptoms seriously and to offer respectful communication and reminders for healthy stress management and self-care whenever possible.

Here are five tips for dealing with workplace anxiety in a productive way.

1. Update your policies to allow for flexible scheduling

While many people crave routine, especially when their regular life is in upheaval, there does need to be some flexibility so employees can attend medical appointments or deal with childcare issues as they come up. By allowing for flexible scheduling, employers can help their employees adjust to navigating the uncertainties caused by the pandemic.

2. Create a schedule based on primary duties

If your workplace has been shut down for the past few months, it may take your employees some time to get back up to speed. Adjust workload expectations for the first while after re-opening and remove any non-essential tasks to allow the employee to stay focused on their primary duties. It’s also a good idea to have a conversation with your employees about which tasks are essential and which ones can wait, and allow them to begin with tasks they agree they’re able to accomplish right now.

3. Take time to check in with employees

Dealing with workplace anxiety is easier when an employee can put language to their physical responses to stress. For example, it could present as shallow breathing, chest tightness, restlessness, upset stomach, headaches or neck and shoulder pain. Once the symptoms are identified they can be addressed. Sometimes it takes an employer encouraging an employee to pay attention to their symptoms so they can self-monitor and identify warning signs in the future.

4. Remove environmental triggers for workplace anxiety

Often, anxiety is a reaction to something rather than a personality defect. If you notice environmental triggers or certain tasks causing stress for your employees, look for ways to remove or reduce these. This could mean delegating a specific task to a different employee for a while, or making a temporary change to your office layout. 

5. Manage anxiety with preparation

Because we’re in a season of change, it’s important for employers to continually manage expectations and communicate the plan to employees. 

Think about how you can prepare yourself, your employees and your office to be a safe space as you return to work. There should be a plan in place for when employees are working onsite, how they move through the facility, what safety equipment and cleaning supplies are required and available and other precautions to ensure they won’t be put at risk. By sharing the plan with employees, this helps ease anxiety.

Having conversations with your employees may help them feel more in comfortable with their returning-to-work situation.


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