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May 23, 2023
Return-to-Office: 7 Strategies to Reduce Stress During the Transition
Written by: Espyr
All over the world, it is evident that COVID-19 has brought significant changes to the workplace. For example, a Gallup survey, “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report” indicates that stress levels among the global working population have climbed to an all-time high. According to the report, 44 percent of participants said they feel a lot of daily stress. Whether the stress comes from work or home, one of its many consequences is decreased productivity.
Workplace stress is common, so coming up with effective strategies to reduce stress for employers, managers, and other workers is paramount for workplace health and overall well-being. As the world returns to a level of pre-Covid-normalcy, businesses are evaluating what Covid-era changes to keep and which to revert on. Many companies are sticking with remote work, hybrid work, or flexible schedules and many have seen benefits and increased productivity from those policies. However, many businesses are beginning to revert to in-office work. As workers are returning to their offices, they face new stresses and uncertainty amid a changing relationship with their employers and managers. The ideas provided in this post can help both workers and employers limit the effects of stress as they strive to meet organizational goals while returning to their offices.
Uncertainty can be upsetting. Research shows that it evokes a feeling of powerlessness, which stresses people out. Planning helps clear your mind and organize your thoughts. Scheduling things can help you avoid stress through a cognitive process known as ‘proactive coping.’
Studies have established a strong relationship between an unclear future and anxiety, and intolerance of uncertainty has also been shown to have a strong correlation with depression. So, as you return to your office, it is imperative that you plan your schedule and prepare your work materials ahead of time. This will help you manage your time better to avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Here are a few “return to the office tips” that can be part of your overall plan:
- The week before:
- Find out and study the return to office plan of your employer
- Ensure your wardrobe is appropriate for your workplace
- Schedule your commute
- Start sourcing any items you will need for work (those not provided by your company)
- Make arrangements for any family responsibilities that may be affected by these changes
- The night before:
- Have your work clothes ready
- Ensure you have enough sleep
- Pack your work items in a briefcase or other bag
- Chat with a colleague about the new requirements
- The morning of:
- Wake up early and mentally prepare yourself for work
Self-care is a vital part of the equation, and it’s important to set aside time to indulge in those things that ensure you improve both your physical and mental health for the betterment of your overall well-being. Self-care can help you manage stress, reduce the risk of illness, and boost your energy levels. Even small daily self-care activities can have big effects on your life. Self-care approaches can vary according to the individual, so it is important to find out what will work best for you. This may often involve some iteration or trial and error.
Although self-care will not cure mental illnesses, understanding what self-care strategies are best for you can help you manage your mental health more effectively. Take care of yourself physically and mentally by getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.
Staying organized will reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. Higher and more prolonged cortisol levels, such as those associated with chronic stress, can have a range of negative effects, such as blood sugar imbalances, e.g., hyperglycemia; decreases in muscle tissue; decreased bone density; higher blood pressure; increased abdominal fat; impaired cognitive performance; lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body; suppressed thyroid function; slow wound healing; and other consequences.
Keep your workspace organized and clutter-free. This will help you stay focused while avoiding stress.
Boundaries help promote a healthy work-life balance. They can also reduce the risk of burnout, anxiety, and even depression, as well as ensure a more pleasant work environment wherein you are less likely to overwork yourself.
Setting boundaries around your work schedule and workload will help you decide on tasks to accomplish now and those to be tackled later. Communicate with your coworkers and managers about your needs and limits.
Learn to decline new tasks if you feel you have too much work already. At the end of work for the day, try to be mindful of what you’ve managed to accomplish rather than what you could not accomplish. In summary, setting boundaries will reduce your stress levels and help you focus on things of urgent importance.
Multi-tasking is a common approach to work these days. However, in the desire to accomplish more in the same amount of time, many workers often remove breaks from their work schedule. This can be bad for work because research indicates that having short, frequent breaks can help reduce stress and anxiety, enabling workers to concentrate better and accomplish more.
Recovering from job stress by taking breaks can restore your energy and mental alertness, in addition to minimizing the likelihood of fatigue, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Take regular breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries. This can include taking a walk outside, stretching out, or having a quick chat with a coworker. HR managers should not only always observe breaks but also ensure that subordinates do the same.
Stay connected with your coworkers and support system. This can help you to feel less isolated and reduce stress. Research shows that those that have high levels of social support seem to exhibit greater resilience when faced with stressful situations, thanks to their lower perception of stress and less physiological response to life’s stressors.
Whether your physical and/or emotional exhaustion is due to long hours of high-stress work or caring for an aged loved one, the love and support of those around you can help mitigate the negative health effects of burnout as well as cushion the psychological distress associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Is gratitude capable of reducing workplace stress? Yes, says a 2022 study. The study suggests that those who express gratitude at work have better stress responses when faced with difficult tasks. According to Christopher Oveis, coauthor of the study and director of the Empathy & Emotion Lab at the University of California, San Diego, this outcome is an indication that gratitude can help people cope better at work.
“When people have to perform in front of others—like when they have to pitch ideas to their boss or interview for a job—some people rise to the challenge and have an efficient cardiovascular response while others don't." In our study, during the collaborative task, gratitude seemed to serve as a buffer against threat responses, and it amplified a person’s challenge-response during individual performance tasks,” says Oveis.
Ease the transition by starting with a hybrid schedule
As workers return to the office, a hybrid workplace is one of the ways organizations can achieve flexibility and a better work-life balance among their employees. A flexible schedule can include nontraditional work hours or remote work. Before the pandemic, commuting ranked as one of the greatest sources of stress for workers. A study found that extending daily commute time by just 20 minutes could have the same negative effect on job satisfaction as a 19 percent pay cut.
A survey by Robert Half, a global staffing company, shows that 50 percent of US employees view their commute as stressful. However, an optimal hybrid policy must be characterized by good leadership and appropriate technologies from those implementing the system within the organization.
Provide EAPs and other quality benefits for employees
It is in the interest of employers to ensure that employees work at or near their full potential. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be valuable resources when it comes to helping employees cope better with issues that may hinder their ability to reach or tend toward their full potential. Some of the challenges that may negatively affect employee well-being include family problems, work-related stress, depression, conflicts with other staff, substance abuse, legal and financial issues, and child/elder care needs.
If not checked, these issues may reduce productivity and increase organizational costs. The healthcare system may not always be in a position to successfully address these challenges, especially those that are not directly related to health. EAPs are cost-effective tools that can help.
Communicate Clearly and Effectively
Though stress can be hard to deal with, it does not have to overwhelm the workplace. If you are an employer or HR manager desirous of helping your employees manage stress, then communicating effectively with them should be one of your top priorities. Hence, you have to evolve a largely democratic communication approach that encourages workers to express their opinions. This is in addition to clearly clarifying your expectations to avoid costly misinterpretations and offering rewards and incentives for good work.
In a nutshell, an open-door policy that allows communication to thrive in the workplace will enable all parties to cope with stress in healthier ways that will boost productivity.
Offer Robust tools and resources to support mental health
Employers should provide mental health resources such as mental health self-assessment tools, e.g., mental health evaluations, including depression screenings, among others. They should also offer health insurance that covers antidepressants and counseling. HR managers and supervisors can be trained to help identify the signs and symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Organize team-building activities
The major purpose of team-building activities is to bring about stronger bonding between employees or team members. A stronger bond will help improve communication and collaboration, which can translate to reduced workplace stress, especially for firms that have remote workers.
Team building activities may include company meetings, seminars and workshops, dinners, study days, and other events. These activities enable employees to learn more about and understand each other and hence feel more comfortable working together.
Improve employee financial wellness
Research shows that financial obstacles can lead to significant stress in the personal lives of employees. Financial issues at home can result in stress and disengagement at work. Though organizations and their top leadership, such as HR managers, should be cautious about getting involved in employees’ financial decisions without being invited, there are ways they can help if approached.
This January, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be stepping down because she “no longer has enough in the tank” for the job. Burnout not only occurs in elite jobs but is a condition that can affect any job role, big or small.
The strategies mentioned above should help post-pandemic workers returning to the office reduce stress more effectively, in addition to enabling employers and HR managers to come up with suitable employee stress-reducing policies for increased productivity, profitability, employee retention, and other goals.
Tag(s): Employee Stress , COVID-19 , EAPs , Mental Health , Stress Management , Working remotely , Work/Life Balance , Employee Burnout , Human Resources