The thought of going back to work can be very stressful for some people but not for others. Some people will see going back to work as an opportunity to earn money, get out of the house, to see work colleagues and develop. Perhaps there is even a feeling of freedom because as the word says, we have been in lockdown and significant life changes can make people anxious.
What is stress?
There are lots of different definitions of stress depending on the perspective you have, for example, there are psychological or workplace definitions.
Anxiety and stress are similar, but with stress, we know that there is a trigger. Anxiety can develop from excessive, chronic stress. When anxiety has been experienced for months it can be diagnosed by a doctor and treated as an anxiety disorder.
The Health and Safety Executive or HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm
Managing stress at work means both the employee and employer need to acknowledge it and do something about it if it is becoming a problem. (For more information go to the HSE website to find out how to tackle work-related stress).
How do you know that you are stressed at work?
Pointers towards identifying stress will include:
- People might tell you
- You might notice different behaviour such as taking lots of time off work, irritability, crying, or becoming withdrawn from colleagues.
- You might see that teams are not working together.
- Performance and motivation goes down.
- Some people have lots of illness such as coughs, colds, sore throats or aches and pains.
Businesses have so much to offer the community; whether it is providing a valuable service to their community of customers or helping other companies, consequently, business owners generally are eager to go back to work.
Business owners will experience stress
But during these unprecedented times, business owners can feel stressed at the additional demands they have to do their job and control social distancing. They need to follow the guidelines and do risk assessments. The results may have cost implications as they need to buy protective clothing or make changes to the working environment. There may be financial difficulties.
The anxieties of their employees also influence them to feel stressed. No business owner wants to see their employees struggling, but tough decisions sometimes need to be made. Furthermore, some employees will decide to quit, and others may not be keen to come back to work when the business opens after lockdown.
What can be even harder for business owners and managers is that some staff will have lost loved ones so they are dealing with bereaved workers who may not be able to work to their full capacity as they are dealing with the loss. Employees may need to consider a phased return for those directly affected by the death of a loved one, and they should consider offering counselling or signposting their employees to the GP or other services that can provide support.
There is also an unknown element that will make business owners feel more stressed, and that is the thought that their business may never be the same and they might not have the same amount of customers as before. There is also the possibility that their business will fold. These stresses can cause them to go into survival mode so only dealing with the essential aspects of their business.
Employees will experience stress
Employees will have other stressors when going back to work. For example, they may want to go back to work to start earning again, but they are not sure how they will physically get back to work as public transport may not be an option, and they need to find new ways of travelling that might increase their costs.
Some employees will have childcare problems. Who will look after their children and continue home education if they go back to work now? Maybe they are scared to come out of their home environment because they are worried about mixing with people and touching areas that may be infected. They fear taking the Coronavirus back to their families.
Some employees will have changed because they may have experienced relationship difficulties, financial hardship and some may have struggled to get enough food. Others may have resorted to smoking, overeating and increased alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, some employees will have had the virus and still need time to recover.
As the workplace is unstable fears may have developed about the future and their job prospects. For those who have been on long term sick leave or are awaiting employment tribunals, the focus back on work will be stressful again.
Getting a job may be a priority for others who are unemployed and now seeking work. There will be the stress of hunting for the right job. Then an application form needs to be completed, interviews and then that fear of rejection because there could be many people applying for the same position.
But it’s not all doom and gloom
The good news is that some stress can be helpful. Although we all hate change and we know that change is stressful it can result in us meeting difficult deadlines, going over and above our duty, performing better, becoming more creative and removing unnecessary waste in a business.
Yet we all have different amounts of stress that we can tolerate. The answer must, therefore, be that as individuals we must take responsibility for our health and wellbeing. Employers also have a responsibility to respond to stress at work.
Tips to safeguard your health and wellbeing during stressful times
We all need to learn from stressful times. Going back to work will raise all kinds of fears and uncertainties for employers and people who are employed. But there is always the possibility that work could be so much better. For some people, this time off work could have made them realise how much they enjoy their work or even that they know which way to take their career.
By just taking a few moments to consider each other’s difficulties, there will be a better opportunity to work together, accept changes and reduce the stress of going back to work.
By communicating clearly and effectively, we might all get to know each other better and the working day will improve.
Here are some tips to make the stressful times easier
- Practice self-care. Ensure that you get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise, and take regular breaks.
- Get life in balance. Don’t work for excessively long hours. Rest when you can.
- Stay connected with family and friends. Give them a call.
- Reduce the amount of time you listen to negative broadcasts on the TV. Reduce reading worrying posts on social media.
- Consider your psychological health. Watch a good movie, laugh and find some way of having fun. Engage in hobbies or anything creative.
- Get support if you need it. If you feel that you are becoming anxious or depressed, talk to your doctor, a friend, or counsellor. Use any support services offered by your employer. Business owners also need to seek help if they feel excessive stress.
- Find out if you can get any financial help if money is short.
- Avoid excess alcohol, overeating or smoking.
So going back to work will cause some people to feel stressed and anxious, but as everyone is different, the amount of stress will vary. Doing something about excess stress and anxiety is essential.