Returning to Office Stress is Real for Many Workers

Financial Wellness BenefitReturning to office stress is impacting employers in a variety of ways.  As the Covid-19 pandemic remains front and center, the returning to work stress factors continues to evolve.  It is abundantly clear that our current normal is nothing like the old normal.  As the workforce slowly transitions back to the office, it’s evident that employers must continue to adapt.  This means employers and employees need to find common ground in the office.  For employees, returning to office stress is taking a toll on the psyche of American office workers.  Meeting the needs of employees whose lives have changed dramatically over the past year and a half is next to impossible.

Employees may be filled with anxiety at the prospect of returning to the office, and as such, employers have a critical role to fill.  No matter where you are in the “returning to work stress cycle”, employers must help employees adapt to a new paradigm, while at the same time instill safe-surroundings, trust, and resilience.  This is the case whether employees are being required to be in the office, or still deciding what going back to the office looks like for the organization.

It’s a tall order, but there are strategies HR professionals can use to ease employees’ stress about returning to the office.  According to an Employee Benefit News article penned by Scott Domann, Chief People Officer at Calm, the best return to office plans include input from employees.  (Calm is the developer and source of the meditation app by the same name.)  That means asking employees what’s on their minds and what questions or concerns they have.  It also addresses the strategy for adapting return-to-office plans to address employees’ worries.  Company-wide communication tools, such as email or intranet, can be used to gather employees’ feedback in an efficient way.

What questions should employers ask?  Mr. Domann noted asking employees the following:

  • if they want to work remote some days;
  • if employees feel comfortable answering questions about the stresses of returning to the office; and
  • if the state of their mental well being is sufficient to make informed decisions on the workplace.

Mr. Dorman also advised employers to be transparent about their plans; while encouraging employees to provide feedback.  Also, keep in mind, the return to the office isn’t going to be perfect, nor does it have to be.  Your plans will continue to evolve as you receive additional feedback from employees and learn about what works, and what doesn’t.

Mr. Domann wrote,

I cannot overstate the value of continuing to actively engage, communicate, and involve your employees in the return-to-office approach.  Create a perpetual motion of engagement and adaptation to maximize the experience everyone has when they return to the office.

Another way to mitigate returning to office stress?  Encourage managers to be mindful.  When managers engage in mindfulness, they can help eradicate the stigma of talking about mental health at work.  This results in higher employee engagement and better productivity.  Offer training on what it means to be a mindful manager and set clear expectations about that. According to Mr. Domann, mindful managers “…stay engaged, lead with empathy, and show vulnerability.”

He also emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health benefit programs, or rolling them out if you haven’t already.  He suggested giving employees access to a meditation app like Calm, paying a stipend for employees with a difficult commute, or providing relocation costs for an employee who moved during the pandemic.  Another option Domann offered is integrating mental health days into the company PTO calendar.  These benefits are designed to cultivate a culture of well being at all levels of an organization.

The pandemic and its impact continues to evolve.  So too, must employers and their benefits offerings, particularly as we navigate this next phase of returning to office stress.  Encouraging employees to provide input and offering simple ways to mitigate their returning to office stress.  Finally, encourage well being that can help create a new normal which is beneficial for all.


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