Fear of Returning to Work: When You're Ready but Your Employees Are Not

Businessman riding bicycle to work on urban street in morningMuch of the country has fully re-opened after a year of restrictions. 

We're still far from going back to the good old days of normalcy, but we will surely get there. As vaccines continue to roll out across the globe, more and more offices are re-opening.

While it's undoubtedly great news for people eager to get back to their desks, it's a source of stress and anxiety for many.

Return-to-Work Anxiety is Real

When COVID-19 hits the world, we were all anxious about how it will affect our lives. Many people felt highly stressed and somehow "desperate" for having to stay home. 

But it has been nearly two years. Many of us have adapted to a new lifestyle, a new way of working. We figured out we can work productively at home just as we can in the office.

Today, many are experiencing return-to-work anxiety for a lot of reasons. Returning to the "real" workplace is a dilemma for many employees. Many are resisting change and keen to retain their work-from-home privilege.

People are worried about the risk of COVID-19, nervous about doing their job again, uncertain about changes in the workplace, and uneasy about personal interactions with other people. It's like we've forgotten what it's like to work with people face-to-face.

This poses a real challenge for employers, especially if it's already taking a toll on increasing employee productivity and hindering growth.


What can you do?

Fortunately, there are simple, effective strategies to help your employees transition back to working in the office.

Check out these expert-approved tips to overcome return-to-work anxiety.


Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate

Communication is key. The best way to quell your employees' anxiety is to listen to them. Acknowledge their anxieties. Try to understand where they are coming from. 

Do some check-ins with your staff and ask how they feel about returning to work. It's important to validate employees' feelings and create a safe environment to voice their concerns. This way, you can come up with the best solutions to ease their transition.


Offer Physical and Mental Health Support

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on employees. It has brought feelings of fear, sadness, worry, and so many more unwanted emotions. 

This is the time when everyone has to pay more attention to their health and well-being. 

Encourage physical and mental health among your employees through the following ways:

  • Implement a more fitness-minded culture by posting and syndicating information about sports activities and similar events.
  • Subsidize your employees' gym memberships.
  • Create fun incentives and challenges. For example, you can give a prize to the employee with the highest step count at the end of each week or month.
  • Include mental health coverage as part of their health plan.
  • Use communication to lower the stigma attached to mental health.
  • Build as much flexibility as possible into your team's schedules.


Adhere to COVID-19 Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets guidance for businesses and employers in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These guidelines cover major health protocols, such as observing social distancing, staggering employee shifts, isolating employees suspected of COVID-19, and identifying tasks and areas with potential exposures to COVID-19. 

Note that federal, state, and local health guidelines, regulations, and communications about COVID-19 are regularly updated. Check the CDC COVID-19 website for more details.

Maintaining cleanliness and observing proper hygiene is extremely important too. Provide your employees with sanitizing products, such as disinfecting wipes, alcohol, and sanitizers. Additionally, enforce strict policies on social distancing and mask-wearing.


Support Your Employees if They Need to Self-Isolate

Health experts advise self-isolation for employees who have symptoms of COVID-19, a confirmed positive for the illness, or have been in close contact with someone who had COVID-19.

Inform your team that if they experience symptoms of COVID-19, they should immediately self-isolate. Identify a room or area where someone who's feeling unwell or has symptoms similar to COVID-19 can be safely isolated and have a plan for how they can be transferred to a health facility.

Encourage employees suspected of COVID-19 to self-isolate or stay at home. They should also coordinate with their healthcare provider or the local public health office.

Many people who have COVID-19 don't have symptoms. Depending on the severity of their illness, you may allow self-isolating employees to perform work remotely.


Promote Flexible Work

More and more companies are adopting flexible work setup, such as a hybrid workforce where employees can work from home on in the office. Give employees some options about when and how often they come in.

Consider creating a flexible policy and make sure that everyone understands every bit of it. 

You may also consider flex schedules for parents, those who live far away from your office, or anyone else who has had emergencies.

To get managers' buy-in for the flexible work policy, promote a results-only work environment (ROWE) instead of focusing on the time spent sitting at a desk to get things done.

Emphasizing results can get your staff to embrace flexibility a whole lot faster.


Stay On Top of Payroll 

Payroll management can be a challenge, especially for a remote or a hybrid workforce. Streamlining payroll processing is important as employees who get paid on time and feel secure knowing that money isn't an issue. 

Gladly, there are new tools and software systems designed for managing payroll regardless of your work setup.

A good example is a cloud payroll solution. It's meant to speed up processes, lower costs, and avoid the risk of errors when manually inputting information.



While your employees may be excited to see old co-workers again and meet new ones in person, returning to work during the pandemic is not an easy feat. The COVID-19 crisis took a toll on everyone - physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

After adjusting to the "new normal", getting anxious about returning to their office desks is expected.

Fortunately, there are ways to help your employees deal with return-to-work anxiety. Make sure to communicate, support their physical and mental health, adhere to local guidelines and health protocols, and promote flexible work whenever possible.

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About the Author: Mariam is a Hygiene Specialist working with SONO Healthcare and a passionate freelance writer. She has been interested in health and cleaning issues since she was young and wants to share her knowledge and experience with others who are not indifferent to cleanup.

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