Returning to the Office

Anxiety over being summoned back to the office

In the U.S., as we enter year three of working through a pandemic, many employees are being required by their companies to return to the office.  This is causing anxiety among many people for various reasons.  As therapists, we have a direct understanding of the assorted attitudes and worries expressed by our clients for why they do not want to return to the office.  We have encountered many clients that are angry about returning.  This anger stems from not understanding why it is necessary to return to the office when they feel they have been just as productive, if not even more productive, while working remotely. 

For some, this anger is based in the fear of being in an environment in which they do not know the vaccination status of their coworkers.  They fear getting sick and this anxiety is especially strong if they are grieving the loss of loved ones from the pandemic.  Working remotely has allowed employees control over their environment and they feel anger at having to give this up without a solid justification.

Shifting attitudes toward work

The pandemic has helped many clients transition from a focus on career to placing greater importance on their quality of life.  They have grown to value working remotely and do not want to relinquish the flexibility they now have with their schedule.  Some have begun to think of their commute to the office as a waste of time that they could be spending in a more productive way.  By working remotely, many have enjoyed greater control over how they spend their time without sacrificing their productivity.  

Reassessing the meaning of work in our lives

The pandemic has caused clients to wake up and take stock of their work situations.  During our lives, we spend so much time at work, that it is important that it is a positive aspect of our lives.  “The typical American employee will spend approximately 90,000 hours at work throughout their lifetime.  That means people usually spend one-third of their lives working.”  Since the beginning of the pandemic, as therapists, we often hear clients express how they have not missed their commutes and the office politics that are a part of so many company cultures.  Rather than spending therapy sessions unpacking microaggressions and workplace traumas, working remotely has enabled more clients to focus energy on topics outside of work.  

Greater value placed on flexibility

Many have shifted their attitudes toward work and have refocused their priorities leading to what the media has been calling, “the great resignation” or “the great reshuffle.”  ”Some 55% of people in the workforce, meaning that they are currently working or actively looking for employment, said they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months, according to Bankrate’s August 2021 jobseeker survey.”  The primary reason cited by those seeking another job is flexibility. 

Employees across all pay scales are wanting to continue working remotely, or at least have a hybrid work schedule, and are seeking a company that supports this need.  Companies that are concerned about retaining their workers are having to adjust and offer more flexible work arrangements.  The pandemic has provided many employees with time for reflection, and this has led to new ways of working as well as causing some to reassess the meaning they find in work such as:

  • associating their identity less with career and more through the relationships in their life
  • focusing more on their life outside of work through embracing hobbies or personal goals
  • enjoying a slower pace of living
  • opening their own business or changing jobs rather than returning to a workplace where their needs are not being met

Tips to help make an easier return to the office

For those that are faced with going back to the office, there are some things that can help make the transition easier.

  • Check into your company’s policies and if you still want to work remotely at least one day per week, then make the case to your manager
  • If you don’t have the option to work remotely, then mentally embrace your return to the office by considering the benefits of doing so
  • Each night before work, get to bed on good timing, lay out what you will wear to work the next day, and pack your work bag.  Being well-rested and organized will make you more empowered to face the day and lessens the number of decisions you need to make each morning
  • Commit to being present in the moment throughout the day whether you are working on something or interacting with someone.  Be fully present
  • Set up lunch with a friend to reconnect during the first week you are back in the office
  • Think of someone at work that you admire and would like to learn more from and invite them to lunch, this could be the start of a mentoring relationship 
  • Plan your commute to include something you enjoy such as listening to a podcast, drinking a delicious coffee or tea, or quiet time to decompress
  • Set up a carpool with one or more coworkers if you would like company during your drive to work and a way to save on the cost of the commute
  • Identify a professional development opportunity that is something you will look forward to doing and make plans to discuss this with your manager
  • Refresh your self-confidence by reviewing your past accomplishments and belief in your skills which is something we all need to do once in awhile

Career counseling

It is estimated that most Americans have 12 jobs during their lives.  If you are unhappy with your current work situation, are feeling stuck, are angry about having to return to the office, or are just wanting to consider alternative options, consider talking with a therapist about it.  Career counseling is a vital part of a therapist’s job, and we are here to help.

Written by: Ruth Waters, LPC