As the world continues to navigate the coronavirus, companies face the unenviable task of rolling out return-to-the-office plans to jittery employees. If you’re facing this new landscape as a woman in midlife, the challenges are unique.
The fear of getting sick, using public transportation, and having no reliable solutions for childcare are just a few major concerns. Those returning to the workplace will also have to navigate a “new normal” in which people stand six feet apart, follow strict health protocols, and wear PPEs.
After almost a year and a half of working from home, it’s normal to feel apprehensive and stressed about going back to the office.
Challenges for Women
Let’s start with the fact that Covid-19 has hit the female population particularly hard, resulting in significantly fewer women in the workforce than before the pandemic struck. In fact, a recent NPR article reported that more than 2 million women left the labour force in 2020 and women are now at the lowest workforce participation level since 1988.
Why? According to Lareina Yee, a senior partner at the consulting firm McKinsey, there are two primary reasons:
- Women were disproportionately represented in the frontline industries that suffered the most layoffs: retail, restaurants, and the hospitality industry.
- The combination of remote schooling for children along with the elimination of most types of outside-the-home childcare, forcing many mothers to leave their jobs—a phenomenon that affected families across industries and income levels.
None of this means that women are necessarily experiencing more stress when it comes to confronting new back-to-work directives, but it certainly doesn’t make the transition any easier for them.
Add to the mix that most people aren’t excited to return to the office at all. A recent PwC survey showed that 70% of the over 1,000 participants cited several factors discouraging them from returning, with 51% citing fear of becoming ill as the primary concern. Another study, by McKinsey, revealed that 29% of people are leaning toward switching jobs if their employers require them to return onsite completely.
Upside Of Returning
But the truth is, notwithstanding having to trade in slippers for actual shoes, there are some benefits to being in the workplace.
Let’s face it, we are social animals, and the extended period of stay-at-home mandates left many feeling isolated and depressed. We are nurtured by being with other people, so even a hybrid work environment can help bolster a sense of connectivity.
Working together with others toward a common purpose is healthy and nurtures solidarity and mindshare as well as spontaneous problem-solving. Contributing to a team effort helps you feel fulfilled and validated in your role.
Human beings are naturally wired to be more acutely aware of what is directly in front of them, so being face-to-face with management can have implications for career advancement. When your contributions are seen and heard in real-time, you stand a better chance of being front-of-mind when leadership is considering expanding roles or promoting key talent.
How To Lower The Stress
So, what strategies can you use to travel this uncertain and wonky road? Here are five ideas to consider.
Don’t wait until the first day you have to show up at the office to design your re-entry plan. While still working from home, think about how your patterns will change and start to implement some of those changes ahead of time. If you’ll have to wake up earlier, for example, you may want to start doing that a week before your return date. Instead of spending the morning in pjs and slippers, perhaps shower and get dressed in office attire as you would on an office day. Maybe even pack a lunch to get back in the rhythm of doing so.
Visit the office beforehand to re-introduce yourself and get a lay of the land (things may have changed due to pandemic-related adjustments). Take the opportunity to refamiliarize yourself with the workspace vibe by walking around the office, maybe while doing some deep breathing or positive visualizations. You might also want to bring in some new personal effects, pictures, or decorations to refresh your space.
If you’re grappling with worry and anxiety about the return to work, know that you’re not alone. Keeping those feelings bottled up isn’t the answer and can make things worse. Talk about the things that are worrying you with trusted peeps, colleagues, or family members. If that’s not an option or doesn’t help, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist or to inquire about support resources that your company may have put into place. Most employers want to help and realize that there is a lot of worries associated with a return to the office.
Try to implement some of your favourite work-from-home patterns into your office routine. If, for instance, you got used to taking midday walks, consider doing the same from the office, maybe enlisting colleagues to join you. Or, if you have integrated relaxation techniques into your at-home schedule, contemplate ways to continue the practice in the workplace. If you’re unsure how, talk to your human resources department about it. They may be open to designating a room or quiet space to support you and others who may want/need the same thing.
Suggest (or put together yourself) a “welcome back” event to foster reconnection with co-workers. A group lunch, happy hour or after-work activity in the first week could not only smooth out jitters about office re-entry but will offer an opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives and maybe even forge new connections and friendships.
Last but certainly not least, be patient with yourself as you face returning to an office environment. Remember, this is new territory for everyone, both employees and employers alike. Know that it will be an iterative process, one in which everyone will be trying to figure out the best way to adapt. Keep your sense of humour and an open mind and share your ideas for how to make things better. You never know, you just may set a new workplace trend.