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Returning to the Workplace – Re-entry Anxiety

Who would have thought in 2018 that Re-entry Anxiety would be a term that would become embedded in our common vocabulary by 2021?  

In this article we look at what it is, the considerations it poses for organisations, along with actions leaders and individuals can take to move forward positively and harmoniously.

The last 20 months have highlighted that although we have all faced the same pandemic, our individual attitudes to and experiences of it has been very different.  It should therefore come as no surprise that feelings about returning to "the new normal" and the anxiety this may cause will vary.  So, while some will be excited and raring to get back to the office and pick up their social lives, it’s estimated that at least half the population are affected by what has been termed re-entry anxiety.


A brief definition of re-entry anxiety

A nervousness many may not have experienced before.  It is generated from radical changes to routine and a sense of uncertainty.  So, in the case of this pandemic, it's an anxiety felt when returning to the workplace, re-starting social activities in person, and resuming travel at home and abroad.


Considerations for the workplace

Given that a global pandemic had never been experienced by our current working population, many have expressed that they feel their employer dealt with the lockdowns well.  They felt safe either working from home or with the safety measures introduced into their workplace.

People want and need this to continue as we gradually emerge from the Covid pandemic and return to the workplace on a hybrid or full-time basis.  Although organisations have many pressures to balance, managing workplace re-entry well could add positively to an organisation’s reputation as an employer ... and, of course, the reverse.

In this regard, recruitment of new staff together with their induction, training and team integration have all become more challenging with the need for homeworking and social distancing.  Many of the working population have also had time to reflect on their attitudes to working life and the importance of balance to bring their best and most productive self to their working hours.

Therefore, for these and many other reasons, employee wellbeing is likely to be at the forefront of decision making for business leaders.


Reactions to change - different personalities, different challenges

We know that different personalities respond to change differently and undergo their own challenges.  Some have found the change Covid has enforced on our working lives as one of the few positives of the whole experience and are reticent to return to their old routine.  Others may have found the isolation and lack of face-to-face contact has reduced their productivity.  And yet others may feel that working from home with no commute, has increased their productivity, job satisfaction and general happiness on the job.

So many differing viewpoints but they all highlight that good communication, particularly listening skills and managing potentially difficult conversations, are more important for leaders now than ever.  In addition, a leader who demonstrates resilience skills and invests time and effort in encouraging their team members to develop such skills will reap many benefits.  These can include helping to manage feelings of anxiety caused by re-entry to the workplace.


Some thoughts for leaders

The article “Staff returning to the office risk ‘re-entry syndrome’” on the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) website has some useful suggestions for leaders to consider.


Tips for individuals experiencing re-entry anxiety

"11 tips to cope with anxiety about getting ‘back to normal'" on the Every Mind Matters section of the NHS website offers practical tips with short videos to illustrate some of the suggestions.


Time well spent on a short training course

To help everyone move forward more confidently, we can deliver workshops either for all employees or solely for leaders and managers.

For leaders and managers : there are 2 virtual workshop versions available, either 1 or 2 hours in duration. Both aim to help leaders facilitate a return to the office through understanding why everyone is feeling differently and how this can be overcome. The longer version allows for greater group interaction and time for questions.

The content of the leaders and managers workshop includes:

  • Understanding re-entry anxiety
  • Neuroscience of change and uncertainty
  • Risk factors
  • Individual difference
  • Our personality type and response to Covid
  • Risk perception
  • Tools for managing personal anxiety
  • How we can support others
  • Moving forward together
  • Tips for leaders

For all employees : a 2-hour virtual course helps participants understand what anxiety is; how issues develop; and the actions to take, based on evidence of what works, to reduce anxiety feelings in situations causing them panic.

The content of the workshop for all employees includes:

  • How did this happen?
  • Understanding the problem
  • Solutions:
    • Not fighting back
    • Training the attention
    • Not avoiding the fear
    • Recognising and changing reactions
    • Learning new skills to solve anxiety issues
  • Making and implementing a recovery plan

If you would like to discuss our Returning to the Workplace training or any of our resilience and mental health training courses, please get in touch using our contact us form, phone us on the number it contains, or email us at [email protected].


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