Returning to the office? Experts share advice to reduce stress and anxiety for work transition

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Posted at 1:28 PM, May 28, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Over the past year, many people needed to adjust and adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic, including major changes in the workplace. Now as the country and Tampa Bay area continue to rebound and return to the office, that could create some stress and anxiety.

Cara Davis started a new job and has been remote since last March.

“I haven’t really met or gotten to know many people at all there, so there’s kind of that layer of anxiety,” said Davis.

As time goes on, some businesses may be starting to transition people back to the office. Davis is preparing for that change herself.

“I’m a little anxious about this,” said Davis. “This has been a big lifestyle change for me. I had worked from home as needed on occasion before, but never just everyday routine, rolling out of bed, making a cup of coffee, and then strolling into my office. I’ve just gotten accustomed to that.”

“They’ve gotten used to this,” said Dr. Ryan Wagoner, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at USF Health. “It’s become the new norm for them, and then suddenly, they have to move back.”

Dr. Wagoner has a few suggestions for people transitioning from remote work back to the office. First, when it comes to the stress of returning during the pandemic, his advice is to get vaccinated and be aware of what your workplace requires for safety, such as with masks.

“Are you more comfortable? Even if they don’t require masks, that you wear one in the office. If that’s something that would remove the stress for you, I would encourage that,” said Dr. Wagoner.

Wagoner says another major stressor of going back to work is getting out of your routine. He suggests finding a way to make what he calls a “Goldilocks plan” — not too rigid and inflexible, but he says at least you put it on paper.

“If you know that you need to go back for a couple of days per week, plan out what days you’re going to go for,” said Wagoner. “But at the same time, if something arises where you have to go in an extra day or you’re requested to, be willing and able to be flexible with that.”

There may be some steps employers can take as well to make the transition easier for employees. Dr. Joyce Bono, a Professor of Management at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, says she thinks it’s about having a conversation not just about flexibility, but about autonomy.

“I think organizations, if they want this to be ideal for the long-run, they should be talking with employees or employ groups, job types, about what are the essential functions that need to be done in the office, what are the essential socialization needs that require us to be physically together and listening to what are the family needs of our workers,” said Dr. Bono.

“I might be the first university professor ever to say he’s actually looking forward to a face-to-face faculty meeting,” said Steve Kistulentz.

Experts also suggest you reach out to colleagues to share how you’re feeling about the transition to work. Kistulentz teaches at St. Leo University and has been remote for over a year.

“I’m a big fan of change. I think the worst thing that can happen to someone is to get stale in a routine,” said Kistulentz. “I think change is good. I think leaps of faith are good.”

While employees ready themselves for another new normal, Davis shares the same advice to others that she’s been giving herself: to keep an open mind.

“You can either say, ‘No, no, no, no, no,’ or you can just say, ‘Wow. This is a change. Let’s see what happens today.’ And that’s what I’m doing,” said Davis.