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Returning to the Workplace

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Returning to the workplace
Sharon Wallerson
April 2021


Having been a therapist and coach for many years, Sharon Wallerson founded Evolve-d, a company focused on bringing about positive change in the workplace. She heads up a team within the corporate world who provide a range of solution-based strategies for businesses in need of her services. Through Evolve-d, Sharon tailors her packages to meet the individual needs of each corporation and their employees, from training and staff wellbeing to peer supervisions and one to one coaching. Her personal and down to earth approach with her clients is the ethos that runs throughout the heart of her operation, and as a result has seen her services come highly recommended within the industry. Her article below explores the emotions of returning to the workplace, and offers practical advice on how to manage within a post-COVID environment.

Why It’s Normal to Be Returning to The Workplace

If I had a pound every time I’d heard the phrase ‘new normal’ over the past few months, well let’s just say I’d be able to buy you a shandy or four by the time June 21st comes around (apart from in London of course, where I could maybe get you a lime cordial at a stretch!). It’s everywhere, used by the media, politicians, educators, television commercials, and what does it even mean? With government officials and some companies urging us back into the office, what will the ‘new normal’ look like?

It’s no wonder that many people might be feeling nervous and anxious about what to expect when they return to work. The Office for National Statistics reported in January 2021 that 51% of adults had already returned, but that still leaves just under half of the working population yet to take the plunge. With concerns about the daily commute, adapting to new working environments and being able to adjust to the speed of employee life in general, it’s no wonder people are feeling under pressure.

If we think back to the first COVID lockdown, it was an uncertain time when nobody really knew what to expect and the adjustment to virtual working was difficult. New procedures and protocols had to be put into place and those who were furloughed had to adapt to a life without their usual daily routine. Slowly, the working world seemed to fall into a steadier rhythm and things weren’t quite so scary.

Now we’re changing again and another transition back to work is on the horizon, our brains are putting a real shift in to try and protect us. As with all new situations, the unconscious looks for a previous experience to match it with. If it can’t find one, it hoists a red flag to signal that something isn’t quite right. Take for example starting a new job, entering a new relationship or even going to a new place. In these circumstances, it’s completely normal to feel anxious because the brain just isn’t reassured yet. The unconscious mind doesn’t have a pathway it recognises and so creates the feeling of being on edge. When we’re able to do the cognitive function of “oh, it’s fine I’ve been here before, I know what this looks like I know what this feels like,” the emotions of nervousness are significantly less.

So, how do we overcome these natural negative reactions in the brain? Well, I suggest by starting with consciously looking for the things that are similar. What will be the same in your workplace? Maybe the same people will be there, the same group of clients, the same administrative processes. You might even be worrying about the things you were once completely confident with, for example taking the tube. Try and adopt the mindset that you’re just out of practice and reassure the brain that you’ve done this before. Why not try a dry run of your journey to work on a weekend when the trains are less busy? If still you’re finding things difficult, just allow yourself a settling in or transition period to give your brain time to understand and adjust.

This is new territory for everyone, so don’t be afraid to challenge the norm. Maybe having worked from home you’ve enjoyed a flexibility offered by virtual working that’s much more aligned with your values around a work life balance. We’ve seen many employees returning to a three-day week in the office. They benefit from the networking opportunities and social interactions that come with being in an office environment while having two days free of the stresses of a daily commute.

So, the ‘new normal’ may well be here, but it doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of. Give these tips a try, we’ve seen for ourselves the benefits they’ve brought to our clients and hope that they help you too.