We're more than one year into understanding life during a global pandemic. Parents have picked up shifts as virtual teachers, couples have begun dating over FaceTime, and athleisure is having a moment no one expected.
At every unexpected turn and hopeful development, society has evolved and learned to cope with the changes. There are days where it feels completely empowering; there are other days it feels we're all overdue for one long nap. And so, we find ourselves, yet again, turning another corner: going back into the office — and the update is getting mixed reviews.
About 39% of professionals are wiping tears of joy at the first sign of life pre-pandemic, noting their excitement to have clearer boundaries between work and home, access to better Wi-Fi and coffee, and the benefits of in-person collaboration. (I have some mom friends who are excited to use the bathroom in peace again. Ah, simple pleasures we missed over the last year.)
But what about the overwhelming majority of professionals who aren't as excited? For them, a return to office life feels like an impending end to flexibility, quality time with loved ones, and the freedom to work from virtually anywhere. Seeing as 70% of companies will have some sort of phase plan for a return, a considerable fraction of employees are said to be dissatisfied with the decision. Many have suggested that the move for return-to-office is more about power and micromanagement than anything else.
Regardless of where you fall on the great debate, you deserve a fulfilling transition back into the office. Here are steps you can take to make the transition a bit less taxing.
Recognize and validate your feelings and concerns
You may be feeling guilty for your 'back to work' blues, thinking, I should be happy and grateful to have a job to go back to. While reconciling feelings of guilt is healthy, it's just as important to validate what you're experiencing too. For many, the return will be bittersweet. (Panicking about putting on pants after panicking about an unknown virus helps with perspective, but we're all human).
Jan Stats, a sociology professor at UC Riverside, shared, "as we take this next step, it is important to be kind to ourselves and to remember that others may be facing similar challenges."
For you, this could look like adopting a tapping method, like the butterfly hug, in moments of distress. It may result in a new hobby of journaling. Whatever your outlet, don't give in to the pressure to repress your emotions. "Suppressing your emotions can lead to physical stress on your body," says provisional clinical psychologist Victoria Tarratt. "We know that it can affect blood pressure, memory, and self-esteem." I think we can all agree that after a blurry two years, our bodies, minds, and hearts are due for a break.
Understand your options and communicate your needs
If going back into an office triggers feelings of anxiety, it's important to understand your options as an employee and contractor. Regulations and policies will vary from company to company but start by speaking with your human resources partner. This person can help you understand how your employers' policies are changing and how they will affect you, what safety procedures are being taken, and what future phase plans look like.
A thoughtful next step would be speaking to your HR business partner or manager. Company leaders — though some are "bad apples" — are responsible for their employees' wellbeing. Most would rather be made aware of something that is causing physical or emotional harm to their workforce than to not know at all and lose great talent.
Have a coping plan
A fact of life, it's like a box of chocolates — you never know what you're going to get. And for the moments you bite into something more bitter, you need to have a plan to spit it out. In other words, a developed plan for hard days is an act of self-care. Before returning to work, you could benefit from answering the following questions:
? How will I emotionally debrief after a heated meeting or after a poor social interaction with a peer?
? What will my morning routines consist of to set up my day for success?
? How will I continue to take care of myself within the constraints of being at a 9-5 again?
? Are there pieces of home like a blanket, plant, or framed photo that can be a token of comfort when I'm at the office?
Remember that you've adapted to change many times before
The last 18 months have been a shared global trauma, and if you're reading this, you've made it out on the other side in many respects. Yes, we are still processing and likely will be for years to come. Yes, we are still in a rebuilding phase, hoping to bounce back financially, emotionally, and spiritually. But if the past 18 months have taught us anything about ourselves, it's that we can do hard things. We can do very hard things. And those things can harden us, and sometimes for a season, they do. But those things can also push us out of a comfort zone and into something far greater than we could have dreamt for ourselves.
A return to the office could introduce you to a renewed relationship with your boss. Perhaps the return will prove to you what your priority is — and if it's not the job you have now, that's OK. Whatever is around the corner, we'll have to face it eventually. Wouldn’t it be best to confront it with preparation and confidence?
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