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Mental health and the Post-Pandemic Workplace

Shanna Dugan, MS, LPC, LCDC, BBA, Executive Director of Connections Wellness Group McKinney weighs in on easing the transition back to the office.
By Connections Wellness Group |

Now that more companies are requiring employees to return to the office, what are the top concerns leaders have about ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and safe?

The transition back into the office will be perceived differently by each employee. Finding the balance to accommodate those who are eager for in-person, face-to-face interactions and those who desire to remain remote due to fears related to the pandemic is incredibly important to ensure success with the transition. This transition will be accompanied by a level of fear for some employees due to the pandemic being a traumatic event for many. It is imperative that the fears and concerns are heard, appreciated, and taken into consideration during the transition to ensure employees feel valued and respected as well as feel physically safe. This respect and understanding will lead to higher satisfaction with work as well as higher levels of gratitude and engagement. It is also imperative to remember that those seeking mental health treatment increased drastically and this transition back into the workplace may bring up emotions and feelings that need to continue to be addressed. Honor the employees who are ensuring that their global functioning, both home, and work, are at the levels needed to successfully function and meet the ever-changing demands.

What are some short- and long-term measures companies can take to ease the transition for employees?

Communication is vital in both the short term and long term when assisting employees with the transition back into the workplace. Leaders who ensure that staff feels heard regarding their needs and challenges through consistent touch-base meetings will provide an environment that is conducive to higher productivity, engagement, and satisfaction with life and employment. Through this communication, leaders can identify strategies that ensure the workplace is a safe place, both emotionally and physically. An employee realizing and experiencing high levels of safety will improve morale and personal value in the workplace. Long term, this communication, and the actions that follow will heighten employees’ optimism for their future with the company and, therefore, improve retention. Ensuring that employees’ needs are addressed on a global aspect requires employers to be aware of possible resources that may be needed by an employee struggling with the transition. Working with local mental health providers as well as EAP programs can provide support for leadership that, in turn, provides support for the employees who may be struggling with the transition. 

What are some of the mental health struggles employees have had during this long break away from the normal office routine?

The pandemic has brought about a heightened awareness of, as well as the need for, treatment of mental health. Employees found themselves thrown into isolated and disconnected settings to ensure physical health and safety were maintained. The inability to mentally prepare for the change provided the perfect recipe for internal chaos surrounded by an external and unpredictable chaotic world.   Employees battling mental health prior to the pandemic found themselves having to adjust their coping strategies and treatment approaches to avoid deterioration. Other employees were uncovering new struggles with depression, anxiety, and isolation–among other potential mental health struggles–they otherwise may not have dealt with prior to the pandemic. Employees had to adjust their entire approach to life and routine when they were no longer able to meet their needs by leaving the house and interacting with others. It is also vital to realize that this same adjustment is now being experienced again after a two-year period as employees are again changing their lives and routines to go back into the workplace. 

Is apprehension about returning to the office normal? How can an employee prepare to ease back in?

Apprehension should be expected as employees are making their way back into the workplace. The answer to this apprehension will require flexibility, patience, and understanding by both employees and employers to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. It will also be vital that all individuals continue to seek and receive the support and/or treatment needed to successfully manage mental health symptoms during the transition. Employees can prepare themselves by discussing fears and worries with their mental health providers as well as seek out knowledge from their employer on what the transition will entail, such as the number of days in the office, cleaning protocols, and expectations for information to be dispersed as changes are made. It is also important for employees to identify effective coping strategies and support systems that will support self-care as the adjustments to the post-pandemic workplace are occurring. 

Shanna Dugan is the executive director of Connections Wellness Group’s new McKinney location. She received her M.S. in clinical mental health counseling at the University of North Texas. Connections Wellness Group is a nationally accredited healthcare practice able to care for any need, from acute depression to the common cold and everything in between. Connections Wellness Group has received more than 100 distinguished awards in its first four years of operation.

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