Five Ways to Reduce Stress during the Great Return to the Office

As offices begin to open up leaders are looking for ways to bring their teams together. Psychologists recommend easing back into our social lives. Returns to the workplace create feelings of depression, anxiety, or general distress in one out of every three employees surveyed. This has implications for retention, productivity, and engagement. Nearly 40% of workers consider quitting if forced to return to their offices full-time.

This doesn’t mean we should put off returning to the office. But we should manage the anxiety it is provoking. These are five main ways to handle a reintegration that leaves your people more productive and energized.

Ease into Socialization Slowly
You may want to welcome back people with a lot of social activities and gatherings. But psychologists recommend that we pace ourselves. We will feel rusty when socializing with others face-to-face. So start with smaller gatherings before building up to a large event with hundreds of people. Give recovery time between events that require social skills.

To avoid pandemic-related anxieties, make sure that boundaries are known and respected. People may be uncomfortable with indoor dining. So keep the initial gatherings outdoors.

Establish Team Rituals
Facilitate opportunities for individuals to share their experiences over the last two years. This creates a sense of connectedness and community. By prioritizing this time for reflection, you can improve trust and morale in teams. Don’t just do this once. Keep it going at least monthly. In the companies that led these gatherings, ninety-five percent of employees rated the event as a positive experience.

Rein in Scope Creep
Overwork can lead to burnout. The responsibilities of many roles increased during the pandemic. As we return to the office, employees fear that the temporary tasks are now permanent. This is the final straw for some workers.

Audit your team’s current tasks to avoid burnout and keep employees. Ask them to compare their day-to-day tasks now to pre-pandemic. Then work with them to determine which ones are permanent or temporary. You will be able to assess organizational changes, identify new skills, and retain talent by updating titles and compensation.

Create Space for Uninterrupted Deep Work
The quarantine increased our digital distractions. The average worker added almost an hour to their workday due to emails and meetings. We are interrupted every three minutes. It can take 23 minutes for us to get back on task.

So introduce policies that prioritize times for uninterrupted work. For example, some companies have no meeting days. But a meeting-free day will backfire if you send double the calendar invites. Audit your meeting culture. Is everyone who is invited vital to the meeting? Are all scheduled meetings necessary?

Create More Recovery Time
Some companies offer company-wide time off. Evidence shows that the short-term costs of giving workers more time off outweigh the long-term impact of burnout. For example, workers who don’t take enough time off suffer diminished capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and learning. When everyone at the company takes the same time off, people don’t feel guilty for spending time off.

LinkedIn shuts down its company for two weeks a year so that they entire staff has time to rest. The company finds it allows employees to disconnect and not feel guilty for it. This may not be right for every company. But LinkedIn finds it is the main thing that their employees love about the company.

Conclusion
We’ve become so captivated with non-stop busyness that any time not spent being productive is seen as a failure. But high performance requires regular periods of deep, restorative recovery. Experiment with these efforts so you can see which ones to keep for the long term. These efforts address the mental health difficulties that the workforce has suffered during the pandemic.

Hamilton Lindley is a father, husband, and entrepreneur in Waco. He likes leading by enthusiasm, energy, and empathy.