Kings Cross Sydney Evening Traffic

How to get rid of the “return to the office” dread

How to get rid of the “return to the office” dread

Posted on January 2021 By Nicholas Farley

Kings Cross Sydney Evening Traffic

Every cloud has a silver lining, and for many of our clients and candidates alike, this has been the ability to spend more time at home and less time commuting.

But, as the economy begins to piece itself back together and staff members are asked to come back into the workplace, return to work dread is a very real problem that employers may face.

Removing the autonomy of the daily work from home routine can feel like starting a new job again, and things like office distractions, the stress of performing in front of others and the potential health risks involved with commuting on public transport during an epidemic can all contribute to the feelings of anxiety for staff. 

Dread is common

Beyond Blue lead clinical adviser and GP Grant Blashki says such fears are a "common phenomenon" among his patients.

"Some are fearful about infection, particularly if they are older or have a disability; some have pre-existing social anxiety and have lost their social stamina to interact with people."

"But I differentiate between people who have more serious social anxiety issues, and those who have lost their mojo and are getting ready to adjust."

"Because for some, there's been that silver lining story, when they've enjoyed the time at home and getting out of the rat race with more time for reflection and families, and now they're having to get back on the train."

Research suggests many people found many commutes can add up to three hours to each working day. So for many, getting this time back can be invaluably spent with family and on other hobbies.

Anticipation is likely worse than reality

Psychiatrist, doctor and Australian Medical Association SA vice president Michelle Atchison says there will surely be some polarized opinions on returning to the office – some will be desperately reluctant, and others will be very keen.

She says COVID pushed "touch points of anxiety" for a lot of people around their work and daily lives, with mental health presentations across the country increasing by about 30 per cent.

"People got the message that staying away from crowded places is what we needed to do so we did not get COVID, get very sick or die," Dr Atchison says.

"Then they say 'OK, you have to come back to work and be around people', so of course it's something that makes people feel anxious."

Tips for dealing with back-to-office dread when the time comes

  • Talk to your employer about whether you can work from home part time. Dr Blashki says an employer may allow you to gradually come back to the office over time, for example an extra day a week each month
  • Do a few trial runs and visit the workplace without having to work. "Often the anticipation of what's going to happen is worse than being there," Dr Atchison says. "The more that you put yourself in the situation you're worrying about, the better your body will be."
  • Speak up if your workplace is stressful or colleagues are problematic. "You need to go through the right processes," says Dr Atchison. "With everything else we've been going through at the moment, we don't need people to also be struggling with a difficult workplace."
  • Try not to self-medicate. Alcohol or other substances might help you feel relaxed about the prospect of returning to work "but it does become its own trap", says Dr Atchison.
This article has been adapted from an article in Forbes and ABC news.