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Mental health tips for employees who are returning to the workplace

Work From Home
Posted at 1:06 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 17:22:29-04

(WXYZ) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of American life, but the longest-lasting impact may be on our mental health.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation March COVID-19 vaccine monitor, almost half of American adults continue to suffer negative mental health impacts related to worry or stress from the pandemic.

Younger adults and women, including mothers with minor children, are among the most likely to report negative mental health impacts at roughly 60%.

About 30% of Black adults report negative mental health impacts, and around 25% of white and Hispanic adults say the pandemic has had a major impact.

As many states grapple with work-from-home orders being lifted, employees will carry these burdens to the workplace.

Erica Price has been working from home during the pandemic. She's only been back to the office twice in the last year.

But, starting June 7, her company is asking employees to begin coming back to the office. It will be a hybrid schedule, and she said she's looking forward to seeing her colleagues and strengthening informal connections.

"The most team building we've had this last year is we had a virtual happy hour at Christmas time. And again, that's just not the same," Price said.

While Price is excited to go back, other workers might find it difficult.

"There would be a whole variety of emotions through anxiety or fears, apprehensions," Salvatore Russo from Ascension Eastwood Behavioral Health said.

Russo, a mental health counselor, says if you're nervous about going back into the workplace, try practicing what your day might look like. You can role play with a loved one or do a walkthrough in your mind.

"This way you're able to experience what your work week or day might look like in a safe way, where you're calm at home," he added.

Russo says whatever you're feeling, it's OK. Others are likely experiencing those same emotions.

"Just to get it out there in front of you, because universally we've all gone through the same thing," he said.

Dr. Misty Bennett is the assistant dean of the College of Business Administration at Central Michigan University and studies organizational behavior. She says for companies looking for a smooth transition back to the workplace, flexibility and understanding will be crucial.

"Employers are going to have to recognize that range of emotions and the fact that there really are a lot of different people coming back to work," Bennett said.

So businesses that make accommodations for employees to continue hybrid work should also consider the needs of workers looking for contact.

"We need to provide those opportunities, too. And so those are outdoor, informal gatherings, perhaps allowing for collaboration time," Bennett added.

As workers return, we could see tension arise between employees with different approaches to the virus and the transition back. Bennett says it's up to company leaders to set the tone.

Empathy will go far in helping us with the transition. After all, we don't know what other people have gone through in the last year.

Bennett said companies should be flexible and communicate that flexibility to employees.

Make sure workers know about employee assistance programs and if companies don't have an EAP, this is a good time to start one.

Finally, communicate a lot and listen to find out what's working and what can work better.

This story originally reported on WXYZ.com.

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