Managing anxiety during the return to work

On Monday 19th July the UK government officially scrapped the ‘work from home if you can’ guidance as part of the wider lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England. As legal limits on social contact recede, old work colleagues have been re-united and news ones introduced after 16 months of virtual collaboration. Whilst many workers will rejoice at the return of in-person working, research by well-being specialists BHSF has found that almost half (45%) of surveyed employees have negative feelings about the return to work. The specific drivers of ‘return to work anxiety’ will be diverse and complex and, as a result, organisations are going to have to play a proactive role in identifying and mitigating unease as we gradually transition back to our desks after such a long period of isolation.

Avoid anxiety in the workplace

How can organisations mitigate unease?

  • Health Protocols:

Sanitising stations, bi-weekly lateral flow testing and hygiene protocols have become ingrained practices in many pandemic-era offices. As people return in greater numbers, it will be important for good practice to be reaffirmed to help ease concerns about viral transmission at work. Furthermore, as the vaccination programme continues at pace in the UK, companies could encourage colleague uptake by granting time-off for appointments, supplying accessible information about vaccination and encouraging conversations. Looking globally, tech giants Google, Netflix, and Facebook have even announced that they will now require all their staff to be double jabbed to minimise future risk and disruption. While a so-called ‘jabs for jobs’ policy has clear health and safety benefits, companies must also be cautious not to drive away talent with strict protocols.

  • Formulate strategies through communication and engagement:

When devising and implementing return-to-work policies it will be crucial to monitor the feelings and attitudes of the workforce throughout. Communicating effectively with employees will ensure that concerns are heard, and that the formulation of strategies is people-centred and responsive to the underlying causes of anxiety. Beyond this, firms must retain avenues of support throughout the return-to-work process, including the provision of adequate mental health support for colleagues suffering with chronic anxiety. When developing strategies managers may have to acknowledge that re-adjustments will be likely whilst navigating the new normal.

  • Generate Employee Buy-In:

During the past 16 months firms have had to adjust to new ways of working on a scale never seen before. Full or partial remote working has become common practice, and as firms now begin to invite staff back to the office it is fair to assume that many colleagues will question aspects of the return to in-person working. In these instances, it will be crucial for management teams to generate employee buy-in by communicating the advantages and relevance of in-person working to their day-to-day operations (e.g., collaboration, innovation, networking, preserving company culture). If an organisation is unable to convey a compelling argument in favour of a return to the office, are there aspects of the business model which might be reconsidered as we emerge out of Covid?

Final thoughts

As stated in the introduction to this blog, the specific drivers of ‘return to work anxiety’ will be both diverse and complex across different sectors and organisations. With this comes a duty for firms to devise tailored approaches and strategies so that employees feel both heard and considered during the gradual return to office working.

Find out more about how we can help you understand what your people are thinking and how they feel about the return to work. Contact us at or phone us on +44 (0)1255 870735.