As restrictions ease, many aspects of life are returning to ‘normal’. For some of us that means returning to work and reuniting with colleagues. How can we best prepare for this next stage of living with Covid-19? Here are some tips to help smooth the transition.
When it comes to returning to work, we’re all being asked to adjust to a new normal again. For workplaces, this means focusing on employee and organisational safety, developing recovery plans, risk assessments and processes to keep everyone safe.
But how might we help ourselves and those around us to ease back into the workplace?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that everyone has experienced the pandemic differently. For some, returning to work is a welcome change after months of working from home. For others, it feels risky to leave the comfort and perceived safety of home.
It’s normal to feel anxious about any change in one’s life. Try to take comfort in the fact that feeling anxious about returning to work after the height of a pandemic is an entirely normal reaction to extraordinary circumstances.
Many of us have worked from home for months and become attached to our routines, pets, and local parks – creating a sense of safety for ourselves when the rules and regulations governing our lives were often changing.
Returning to work is likely to bring on some anxiety around shifting our routines, missing the people we shared our workdays with and managing the new demands of being around people again. If you’re feeling anxious, here are some strategies that can help:
Acknowledge your emotions – Be kind to yourself and know that it’s okay to feel uncertain and distressed. These are incredibly challenging times for everyone.
List your concerns about returning to work – Channel your anxious energy into action by focusing on what you can control and any precautions you can take to feel more at ease.
Keep things simple – Try not to go from one to 100 on your first day back at work. Keep things simple as you get used to your new routine to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Speak with your manager – Think about your job and what you need to do it well. Are there any concerns you can discuss with your manager to improve how you return to work?
Practice self-care and self-compassion – If you can show yourself kindness during this period of adjustment, you’re more likely to be empathetic to others, it’s a win-win.
Consider the needs of others – Your experience and feelings might be very different from your colleagues. Try not to judge whether others are coping better or worse than you are.
You don’t have to be a mental health expert to notice when you or someone around you might need extra support as we return to the workplace. As we know, everyone will react differently, so it’s helpful to think about the signs that can indicate someone is in distress.
The main thing to remember is to trust your gut – if you feel there’s been a change in a colleague or team member, reach out to check-in on how they are going. If you’re noticing changes within yourself, consider seeking extra support or speaking to your manager.
The power of empathy in the workplace
In its simplest form, empathy is the ability to recognise emotions in others and understand other people’s perspectives on a situation. When returning to work and our colleagues, our ability to empathise can really help how we adjust to these new circumstances.
If we can empathise with how our colleagues might be feeling as they return to work, we’re more likely to find common ground and establish new and more meaningful ways of support each other during this time of transition. It all starts with a having a conversation.
Steps for having an empathetic conversation at work
If you can, ask ‘how are you going?’ rather than ‘how are you?’ to elicit a more meaningful response. Asking a colleague ‘What’s on your mind?’ can invite them to share more of their own feelings rather than providing a yes or no answer.
Try listening without judgement and instead try to show your empathy by actively seeking to understand how your colleague may be feeling. If you feel it could help, you might like to acknowledge or normalise their concerns.
While listening to your colleague or team member, think of questions that may help to focus the conversation on working towards a solution, such as: ‘What do you need right now?’ and ‘What would be helpful?’ and ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
Show your support by connecting your colleague with any other services that might be able to help ease their way during this time. This could be connecting them with internal HR services or external supports like an EAP service or support line.
If you’re a manager, it’s always helpful to offer something practical when an employee comes to you with a challenging situation, to help alleviate pressure or support them to make changes on their own.
At Caraniche at Work, we offer a Manager Support Service to help managers and team members learn how best to support their colleagues, in all areas of their lives but at this time, in how they return to work.
By being mindful of each other’s experiences – as well as our own – during this transition period, we’re more likely to return to work with a compassionate mindset. From here, we can then more easily settle into our new routines and work days.
If you’d like more tips for returning to the workplace, we heartily recommend you visit the Australian Psychology Society website which has free downloadable resources for employers and frontline workers.