Job Stress and COVID: Reduce Back-to-Work Anxiety for Your Team

Posted by Seraine Page on Thu, Jul, 15, 2021

RTOJob stress is more real than ever.

Add in coming back to the workplace during an ongoing pandemic, and it’s enough to make most employees want to crawl back into bed. While gathering back to a somewhat normal workplace might feel exciting, it can also feel a bit terrifying, too.

During the past year, health officials have constantly reminded us to keep our personal interaction bubbles small, so it makes sense employees are feeling uneasy. Plus, every day we’re learning what is considered safe in the post-COVID vaccination world. With new updates daily, it can add fuel to the anxiety fire.

As employers, being empathetic and addressing those concerns will help make the adjustment back into the workplace easier for your employees.

Not sure exactly how to do that?

Below, we share insight on how to acknowledge employees’ concerns and a variety of ways to ease their anxiety.

Reduce Job Stress for Employees Returning Back to Work

As your team gets settled back into the workplace, keep in mind how it may feel for them to be back. The continued uncertainty with the virus has kept many on edge, which can contribute to reluctance to head back into work environments with fellow employees.

Everyone will process the experience differently. Keeping that in mind can make the return to work much easier for your entire workplace when you remember that COVID is still a continued job stressor.

Below are some ways to help your employees return with a little less anxiety.


There are no doubt workers are fearful of returning back to the physical workplace. A recent survey by FlexJobs found most people don’t want to come back to work. In fact, the survey found only 2% would want to come back into the workplace. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many, despite the fact that the fear of getting COVID hasn’t subsided. Because of that, it’s essential for leadership to acknowledge the fear is real, and allowing employees to have a choice in their work options can be helpful.


In order to ease your employees’ anxiety, they have to understand what’s going on. When the lines are blurred and it’s not clear what the rules are, it leaves room for interpretation and for anxiety to fester. Share what your company has done — and continues to do — to ensure employees’ safety is number one.

Questions that may need to be answered by leaders:

  • What will the office setup look like?
  • What’s the mask policy in the workplace?
  • What are the cleaning protocols?
  • How many individuals can be in a workspace at once?
  • Are customers allowed inside the building?

Prepare for questions from employees about personal safety when it comes to COVID. Staying empathetic and patient will help in the transition process, too. There will be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in many workplaces, which can raise anxiety for many individuals. Set firm boundaries of what is expected while employees are in the workplace — like if masks are required — and communicate those often and clearly.

Encourage Open Dialogue

One way to reduce anxiety is to face fear head-on. By allowing workers to have conversations around the pandemic and how it’s impacted their mental health, it creates a sense of unity over the shared relief that most people aren’t alone in their feelings. Encourage your employees to discuss what it’s like shifting routines, coming into the office, having to wear real work clothes again, and more. By opening the conversations up, it creates an opportunity for leadership to hear where sticking points may be and how to address those.

Related: 11 Simple Ways to Boost Employee Morale ASAP 

Offer Mental Health Resources

One of the best ways to help employees dealing with anxiety is to provide them with a way to find relief. By providing solid mental health resources, you can give workers a chance to work through their mental health in a helpful way.  

Resources to share:

The above organizations are just a starting point for getting mental health resources into the hands of your employees. Find out what they need and then go forward from there. Ignoring mental health in the workplace is a sure-fire way to lead workers straight to burnout or worse.

Give Updates on Sanitation & Health Policies

Workers coming back into their work environment want to know that it’s safe to do so. One of the best ways to reassure them is by sharing your updated sanitation policies. Let them know if you’ve hired a cleaning crew for deep cleanings. Share if you’ve purchased air filters for the office or if you’re planning on offering personalized purifiers for office spaces. Remind staff to do their part by wiping down their office spaces, too. That includes phones, keyboards, mouse pads, light switches, and door knobs.

Related: Clean Hands, Clean Office: The Importance of Handwashing at Work 

Remember Every Reaction Will Be Different

As with many business moves, landing on one solution for returning after COVID shutdowns isn’t necessarily going to make everyone happy. Each employee is coming back into the workplace with varying personal experiences with COVID.

 As an employer, it’s important to keep that in mind as hybrid work model discussions come into play. Leadership that uses empathy and active listening will have the most success getting workers settled back in.

For leaders, making it a goal to be connected to employees and encouraging them to focus on their mental well-being is an excellent first step. Mental health is never a one-size-fits-all approach, so it may take a multi-pronged approach to find the right fit for your workplace. With each adjustment, remember it will take time to get reacquainted with work flows and collaboration and not everyone will be on board, but it’s still worth a try.

How are you helping to ease employees’ anxiety about coming back after an extended time away from the office due to COVID? Share your insight below!

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Topics: Healthy Workplaces, COVID-19


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