Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

As vaccinations continue to rollout in the fight against COVID-19 and infection numbers in Ontario continue to drop the thought of reopening businesses and schools is on the minds of many.

 

After more than a year of restrictions and strict safety protocols the prospect of returning to the workplace looms closer, and for some, so does a growing sense of anxiety.

“There is quite a bit of apprehension around the thought of going back to work. It really depends on the person,” says Grace Brown, Clinical Supervisor/Registered Psychotherapist at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries, explaining an extrovert, introvert or ambivert, will react differently.

 

“If you live in a very active community, you’re probably going to feel stronger and feel more prepared because you have supports – like child care – in place,” she says. “I also think the anxiety level will be determined by the safety protocols each organization has in place or is intending to put in place.”

 

Kate Urquhart, a Psychotherapy Clinical Intern at Carizon Family and Community Services in Kitchener, agrees.

 

“Having timely information is going to be such a key thing because there has been such ambiguity since the pandemic began,” she says, adding employers need to ensure they have a plan in place that can address the concerns of their returning employees. “People can’t plan if they don’t know what they’re getting into.”

 

Even with lower transmission rates and vaccinations, she says COVID-19 safety protocols will still be in place at workplaces when the province reopens and that these should be clearly conveyed.

 

“It’s about making sure those are clearly communicated so that people who have anxiety can feel confident their employer is taking all the appropriate precautions and that people with less COVID-19 anxiety must also follow those same protocols,” says Kate.

 

Grace says people should also know their own limits when it comes to dealing with this pandemic and that being proactive rather than reactive when the times to come to return to the workplace is the best way to reduce stress or apprehension. She suggests staying informed with the latest Ministry of Health recommendations is a good first step.

 

“It’s not going to be very helpful for people to reduce their anxiety if they are waiting for their boss to tell them what’s going to happen,” she says. “I think that is going to cause much more anxiety than if you researched on your own and know what your personal limits are and proceed accordingly.”

 

But even with proper safety protocols in place, walking back into the office may prove to be difficult for many says Carizon Psychotherapist Dan Young.

 

“Even though we may be going back to a situation that might be similar, we’ve all been changed by this,” he says, adding grief and loss will play roles as people come to terms with their emotions when they return to the workplace.

 

This could involve the tangible loss of a co-worker who passed away, or a potential career move an employee may feel they missed because they had to stay home to care for children or an elderly relative. As well, Dan says some employees may just no longer feel comfortable with the physicality of being around other people again in an office setting.

 

“For businesses, the challenge will be how do they recognize that they need to do something to support people,” he says. “There is no one size fits all.”

 

Kate says many returning employees may also suffer from ‘survivor’s guilt’.

 

“We’ve all been through, or are still going through, this huge worldwide traumatic event,” she says, adding some may feel they don’t have the right to complain when others appear to have lost so much more.

 

“I think that needs to be addressed. It’s OK for you to complain,” says Kate. “Everybody has lost something, and your losses are real for you. You need to come to terms with your own personal losses in order to take that step forward.”

 

She encourages employees to access potential workplace EAPs or mental health resources in order to find help.

 

“Even if you feel just a twinge, you don’t have to be in a crisis state to reach out,” she says.

Grace says reaching out to employers about instituting a gradual return to work can also be explored if someone who no longer can continue to work remotely is concerned about a sudden return to the office.

 

“It’s my hope this will open an ongoing dialogue and communication between employers and employees versus mandates that don’t take into account everyone’s different situation at home,” she says, adding empathetic employers will see higher productivity and better retention rates. “If an employee gets the sense an employer is very much just about producing that’s definitely going to feed into anxiety and stress.”

 

Dan says providing employees with choices is empowering and that changes in the workplaces should be expected.

 

“We know it’s not going to be the same,” he says. “We’re not going back to the way it was before.”

 

In preparation, Grace says everyone, especially those with children, should be talking about what life may look like when things begin to resemble ‘normal’ again.

 

“Talk to them about their concerns and expectations, even what they might be looking forward to because that may have to be adjusted as well,” she says, referring to the possible need to continue wearing masks in schools or getting vaccinations. “Communication is going to be very important.”

 

As well, talking to a professional counsellor is also a good option.

 

“Now is the time to connect with a counselling agency before the rush in order to not only prepare yourself, but provide support for your children,” says Grace. “Anxiety is a real thing and pretending it doesn’t exist actually makes it worse so everybody should start talking about the reservations they have and be supportive of each other.”

 

For more, visit https://fcccnd.com or https://www.carizon.ca

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