Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

woman at computer holding her head

Helping Employees Deal with the Stress of Returning to Work

by James Porter September 27, 2022

The pandemic has forever changed the way we do business: Overnight our standard operating procedure went from NOT TRUSTING workers to do their jobs without supervision to COMPLETELY TRUSTING them to work from home. This level of employer trust would have taken years if not decades to bring about if it hadn’t been forced on us by the pandemic. And because most employees, didn’t see the possible advantages of working from home, this change was seen at least initially, as very stressful.

For lots of reasons, ALL change is stressful. So, now the thought of changing back to way we did things before is going to be stressful, too. Especially because you will be asking employees to give up what they now realize is the biggest perk they’ve ever gotten in their entire working lives: Freedom from someone always looking over their shoulder and the flexibility to create their own schedules.

About a decade before the pandemic started, I came across an article, written by an HR specialist, that suggested that ALL employers should treat their employees as if they were unpaid volunteers. This idea really shocked me at first. But the more I read, the more I realized this astute author’s arguments made perfect sense. She made it exceedingly clear that if an employee wants to slack off or do a sub-parr job, in most organizations, they probably can. And if you give them too much oversight and treat them poorly, they probably will.  

But if managers weren’t constantly looking over their employees’ shoulders – like they would if they were unpaid volunteers - these employees would be more motivated, like their jobs better, and get more work done in both the long and short run. While this objective was so far from a reality when read this article almost 15 years ago, it was brought about overnight by the pandemic.

This change allowed workers to effortlessly put personal and family life first and work second. It allowed them to: Get laundry done, take care of sick kids, stay home with a cold or minor illness (and continue working), eliminate wasted commuting time, pick up their kids after school, and not have to pay for after school childcare. These are just a few examples of how many work-life balance problems got solved overnight by the pandemic.

So NOW that you want to bring them back, the first thing you need to consider is what are you going to give them in return for giving up these major work-from-home perks? Is there a way to make the workplace a place where workers actually WANT to return to?  Absolutely.

My adult daughter recently returned to a hybrid work schedule, and she really likes it.  She can still work at home several days a week (and have that flexibility outlined above on the days she really needs it), but what she got by returning to work was a more social workplace with less oversight where interactions with fellow employees are encouraged and where social events are a part of the schedule.

But this is only scratching the surface of what employers can do to help their returning workers manage stress. Next week we’ll look at exactly what stresses out workers most about returning to work and what reassurances you can offer them about making the transition back.

James Porter
James Porter