Why compassion must be our guide as we return to work

Anxiety at work

It’s almost unbelievable to think that we have now reached a year since the first national lockdown. Not because it’s gone so quickly, but because it hasn’t! We are now a year into this rather extreme social experiment; what happens when you remove all “unnecessary” social contact, almost all leisure sport and exercise, all avoidable travel, and dictate that people must live and work in their homes indefinitely amidst a constant and grinding narrative of danger and judgement. 

Tentatively, we are crawling towards a return to our previous way of life. Many people are now spending at least some time back in the office whether through hybrid working or going back full time. And although on the one hand we welcome the return to normality, in the other hand many people will deal with post lockdown trauma. 

What is this lockdown trauma? I think its the trauma of being starved and then force fed! Starved of all social contact and then force fed the social complexity of an office environment. Starved of all travel and then force fed the crowded commute. Starved of all extra curricular activities and then force fed the expectations of busy days and evenings out. Yes, we do want it all back, but for many many people this transition is going to be a little bumpy, and for others it may cause severe anxiety. 

This is why as we begin hybrid working or go back to the office full time, compassion must be our guide as we return to work. We need to have compassion on team members who are struggling to match the pace, who need a little more time and space than usual. Not everyone will need it, but keep your eye out for that person who seems to be struggling with the culture shock of expectations in the work environment. As Dr Dan Sherwood, a consultant psychiatrist at the Defence Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough has said, “I think it is plausible that there will be a higher preponderance of workplace absences as lockdown lifts, and certainly in the early stages. And, if so, I think that that will have an impact potentially on the morale and psychological wellbeing of the reduced workforce, and increasing the likelihood of occupational burnout”. 

No doubt this transition back to office working will be a tricky one. We must be ready to respond with compassion , not judgement, when our team members and colleagues need support.