Return to Work Anxiety

Lynne Griffiths

According to research by Bupa Health Clinics, 65% of British workers feel anxious about their return to the office, with 42% of respondents saying one of their main concerns was being able to properly socially distance while in the workplace. Other concerns included fears about commuting (38%) and the office not being clean enough (37%).

However, working from home doesn’t work for everyone. There is such a thing as WFH burnout, people working longer hours and an inability to separate work and leisure – which is also having an impact on mental health.

Whichever situation you may find yourself in, anxiety can be a common occurrence as anxiety is a natural response to uncertainty. People often feel anxious when they’re worried about something that’s about to happen or might happen. Some anxiety keeps you alert and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead. But if your anxiety gets too much, it can negatively affect how you feel and behave.

Anxiety has lots of triggers and everyone’s situation is different. During the pandemic, you may also:

  • be worried that you don’t have the right skills if your role has changed or you have forgotten essential skills you haven’t used for some time
  • feel anxious about catching COVID-19 and/or transmitting it to vulnerable friends and family, especially if you’re still waiting to be fully vaccinated
  • have enjoyed working from home, without the pressures of being in an office environment

Tips for coping with post-lockdown anxiety

Plan ahead for your return to work

  • Before going back to work, it’s helpful to prepare yourself mentally, physically and practically. Ask your manager about any changes to the office layout and procedures, including new coronavirus testing policies.
  • Have a catch-up with colleagues via email, phone or video chat, so it’s less daunting when you see each other face to face for the first time after so long.
  • Plan your journeys in advance or see if you can have flexible working hours at first, so you can avoid the rush hour traffic or overcrowded public transport.
  • Plan your routine – re-adjust to new working hours before you go back – get yourself used to waking up earlier for a few days, as if you’re already commuting into the office.

Have open and honest conversations

Some people may say they’re okay even though they’re struggling. So even if work colleagues appear to be coping well, it’s important to ask how they are.

  • If you’re feeling anxious about going back to the office, share how you’re feeling with your line manager and/or your colleagues – they’re likely to be feeling the same way too.
  • If you notice any members of your team seem irritable, nervous or quieter than usual, ask how they’re feeling, as some people may welcome some additional support. Ask….then ask again!
  • It may be tempting to work longer hours, especially if you’re catching up with colleagues. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get everything done straightaway.

Practise self-care

  • Write down your worries and see what you can and can’t control.
  • Improve your sleep patterns
  • Eat healthy and steer clear of too much caffeine and alcohol
  • Practise deep breathing exercises and meditation to help you relax.
  • Download some mindfulness apps to your phone – these can help to keep you calm, especially on your daily commute.
  • Exercise – choose something you enjoy such as a walk or gym class.
  • Plan some annual leave, which may have been disrupted over the last year, to make sure you get some time off. Plan fun things for the weekends and make sure you relax in the evenings.

Asking for help

If you’re struggling to cope with your anxiety, or it’s getting worse, it’s important to speak to someone about it.

  • Make use of Employee Assistance Programmes or Occupational Health Services if your workplace has them.
  • Discuss your worries with family, friends or work colleagues, or contact your GP or a local counsellor.
  • Call a mental health helpline run by organisations such as Mind (0300 123 3393) or Anxiety UK (03444 775 774)
  • If you need urgent support, call the Samaritans helpline (116 123)


Focus on the positives

Focus on the benefits of going back to work. For example, the workplace can provide a long awaited  opportunity to connect with other people.

One thing that the pandemic has taught us is the pleasure of simple things, not least human interaction and perhaps the pandemic has also given us new perspectives on work that will ultimately benefit our work/life balance.


Sirius Talent Solutions can provide your organisation with a tailormade Employee Mental Health programme. For further details, call (01932 562007) or email:  [email protected]