After over a year of working from home, the gradual return to the office has finally appeared on the horizon. For many, this seismic transition has already begun. In light of World Mental Health Day (10th October), it is important to consider the implications of this change. After all, a complete shift in work environment after over a year of adjusting to our particular routines can certainly be disorientating – a lot of us have only just acclimatised to Zoom! Such a significant change to your daily working life is bound to cause a raised level of stress. A quarter of surveyed office workers in the UK believe that a return to the workplace will negatively affect their mental health. So, if you are feeling anxious about this change, you are certainly not alone.
It is important to remember that any anxieties you may have regarding moving back to the office are valid, and crucially, that there are ways to combat these worries—whether simply through adjustments to your routine or through seeking support from organisations that can help. In this three-article series, we aim to lay out some of the main stressors which the workplace transition is causing, and potential solutions to these issues. It is important to note that even though we feel it’s vital to shed light on this issue and confront it, Mason & Dale are not professionals in mental health, so we cannot offer direct advice. But if you are seeking support, then we have listed a range of organisations to contact at the end of this article. We do need to talk about mental health more, as unfortunately it often goes ignored or unnoticed. If you take away anything from this article trilogy, it should be that you are not alone in any feelings you may have and you are entitled to seek advice if you need to. So, let’s look at some reasons why going back to the office is causing apprehension (other than saying goodbye to working in your pyjamas!)
Less Time for Yourself
One of the major benefits of working from home has been an increase in time for oneself. With the eradication of the daily commute, and no longer any need to frantically prepare packed lunches or run to the local café during lunch breaks, a portion of time during the day suddenly became free. Many people took this opportunity to practice self-care in various ways—whether through taking up daily exercise, spending more quality time with family, or simply having some peaceful moments to themselves. Of course, with the return to the office, certain aspects of this self-care will inevitably become compromised because of a reduction of time in the day. This, for many people, is understandably a significant factor.
Exercise increased markedly in popularity at the beginning of the pandemic. In the UK, the first lockdown saw 45% of people taking up home workouts. The correlation between exercise and mental health benefits is no secret: 63% of people across the UK said that exercise is important to their mental health. So, with the return to the office, and losing time spent on exercising, it is no wonder that so many people are feeling concerned about their mental wellbeing.
However, the outlook is looking generally positive, with 8 out of 10 people hoping to continue their new exercise regimes once “normality” begins to return. Such numbers indicate a general confidence that the importance of exercise will not be overlooked—the chances are that people within your work community will understand if you would like to continue to prioritise exercising for your mental health and many of them will feel similarly. Perhaps finding likeminded people in the office could be a good reason to start a regular group activity, such as a running club, or could even prompt a conversation with your manager to negotiate a hybrid working week that incorporates both working from home and from the office—an increasingly popular routine among workplaces, with 53% of surveyed office workers requesting this new way of operating. If possible, you could also utilise the return of the work commute as an opportunity for daily exercise, perhaps by swapping your car for your bike, or the Tube for a brisk walk. Of course, this is not an option for everyone, but there are certainly options out there. The most important thing to remember is that, if you are nervous about compromising your exercise routine, there are probably other people at work who feel the same.
Another concern among employees is that the return to the office will jeopardise important matters such as quality time with family. According to a HR News study, the loss of time with family was one of the top concerns among workers, and another survey by Ezra found that a quarter of workers considered the loss of time with family as their primary source of anxiety regarding the return to the office post-pandemic.
The notion of leaving pets behind is proving to be another worry for office returnees. According to Lifestyle Magazine, one US survey found that nearly half of people aged 18 to 24, and a third of those aged 25 to 40, would rather quit their jobs than be forced to leave their pets at home alone full time, now that they are having to return to physical workplaces.
Time with both family and pets is a hugely important aspect of maintaining mental health. Spending time with those we love is a key means to our happiness. It is important to remember that a return to the office does not necessarily mean a compromise to this time. In fact, it shouldn’t. One advantage to this transition is that it could re-establish firm boundaries between ‘work life’ and ‘home life.’ Once again, your home can return to truly being your home, and not a strange fusion between home and office – your living room no longer has to be cluttered with laptop chargers and documents, and can instead return to a place where you can relax and watch a film, with no reminders of the working day lingering in the corner. Perhaps a return to the office can mean a re-establishing of what is important to you and an easier separation between your job and your personal life. Your mental health is important and deserves to be nurtured in its own right—completely separate from your profession.
Stay tuned for Wednesday’s article, where we cover a core implication on everyone’s minds. Head to our Instagram and LinkedIn pages for more content surrounding World Mental Health Day this week, and if you are struggling with the return to the office, or with your mental health more generally, the below organisations are available to contact to help or offer further information.
Mind – Mind are a UK-based mental health charity who offer advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Contact their helpline on 0300 123 3393, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website for more information.
ACAS – for issues specifically related to the workplace, ACAS offer free impartial advice on employment rights, best practice and policies and resolving workplace conflict. Contact their helpline on 0300 123 1100 or visit their website for more information.
Samaritans – If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit their website for more information.
The Survivors Trust – If you have suffered sexual harassment at work, then contact The Survivors Trust for support on 08088 010818 or visit their website for more information.
Hub of Hope – if none of these organisations seem to be the right fit, visit the Hub of Hope, the UK’s leading mental health support database, to find the right mental health organisation for you.