Focusing on Mental Health When Returning to the Office

Mental health is one of the major wellness issues affecting Americans. One of the main drivers of mental health is our jobs. What happens at work affects our well-being in numerous ways. The pandemic has changed many previous assumptions, and it has impacted employees who now stand ready to go back into the office. Employers need to be sensitive to the changes that employees have experienced in the last 15 months as they prepare to welcome their workers back to an in-person work environment. At the same time, employees need to be careful when adjusting back to the office after over a year of telework.

There is no denying the fact that our collective mental health has gotten worse since March 2020. Many of us experienced loss and fears for our own health. Some have even survived COVID-19 themselves and bear some emotional scars. Workers have had their own share of trauma and stress because of the pandemic, and employers need to be ready for that. They should understand that the transition back to the office may be difficult for some who have gotten used to being at home. Accordingly, they should increase their investment in mental health resources for their employees who are returning to the office. In addition, employees themselves should not hesitate to take advantage of all the help they are offered if they are struggling with the transition.

Employers Are Dealing with Employees Changed By the Pandemic

In general, depression and anxiety rates skyrocketed during the pandemic. Companies are not getting back the same workers that they had before COVID-19. They should at least have some understanding that the transition back to the office may be difficult for some employees. More than 30% of people who did not suffer from depression reported dealing with it during the pandemic. This does not go away just because the country is returning more to normal. It would be unreasonable for employers to think that everything automatically goes back to the way that it was in February 2020.

In general, both employers and employees need to keep a close watch on possible mental health issues as everyone returns to the office. Employees may show signs of stress and aggression. Employers should generally act in a supportive manner and work to get employees the help that they need to transition properly. From an employee perspective, we would reiterate the mantra of the pandemic that "it is OK not to be OK." Supervisors must be tolerant and accommodating when an employee informs them that they are dealing with mental health issues. Employees should be encouraged and allowed to have open discussions with their supervisors.

Focus on Physical and Mental Health When Welcoming Employees Back to Work

One way that employers can help is by focusing primarily on mental health issues first when employees return. They should circulate information about how their workers could access mental health resources and run community fair type activities that focus on mental health. This could get employees comfortable talking about how they are doing and allow them to pay attention to their own well-being. In general, employers should shift their focus to convincing their employees to take care of themselves. This will mean both healthier and more productive workers. Employees could also become more effective professionals who are more focused on the job.

Exercise is another area that may be affected. Some people took advantage of the time saved by not having to commute to begin working out every day, or at least several times per week. Now, having to go back into the office takes away the time that they would have used to exercise. Suddenly removing an exercise routine can have major detrimental impacts. The endorphins benefit mental health, and a sudden change of routine for the worse could cause depression. Employers should double their efforts to provide exercise opportunities at work, or at least make it easier for their workers to continue the healthy habits that they picked up during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, employers were beginning to place a premium on corporate wellness. This included things such as screenings, mental health offerings and gym memberships. Some companies are reevaluating how they do things as they transition back to what may be a hybrid workplace. Companies cannot cut their investments in corporate wellness because they are a major driver of their employees' physical and mental health.

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