WFH to WFO: How companies should break it to workers 2
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Culture

Return-to-office anxiety is real—here’s what companies and employees can do

When your former workplace has become an unfamiliar zone, feeling safe in it again will take some time
ANCX Staff | Mar 28 2022

Calls urging employees to return to their physical workspaces are getting louder. In a statement, business and industry groups and property firms has said going back to the office is “a significant step towards the country’s journey to post-pandemic normalcy.” They also believe heightened business activity “will benefit the entire nation and spur its return to economic wellness.” Among the signatories of the said statement include the Philippine Chamber of Commerce, Go Negosyo, Management Association of the Philippines, and Resto PH.  

The decision of companies to return to the Work From Office (WFO) model has, however, caused worries and anxiety among their employees. This is according to life coach Myke Celis, who has encountered complaints during the past year and now that employees are being requested to return to their traditional work spaces.
 
Celis says it’s normal for people to feel anxious about what to some might be an abrupt change. For the last couple of years, employees have become accustomed to having the freedom to work from home or wherever they please. “You are coming from another space—a space of fear, worries, resistance simply because you don’t know what to expect this time around,” he told ANC’s Dateline Philippines. Adding to people’s anxiety are the rising prices in petroleum, the traffic problem, and the fear of getting Covid.

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Celis has been working with several fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies to help address employees’ resistance to go back to the WFO setup. According to companies’ human resource departments, among symptoms observed in employees are restlessness, lack of focus, and skipping work consistently. Some workers indulge in stress eating or stress drinking in order to cope with the process, says Celis.
 
“It’s because they don’t feel safe or at home with the company they’ve been with for the longest time. Their workplace has become an unfamiliar zone,” he says.
 
According to Celis, he’s had employees express their back-to-office concerns to him over the last two years. The reason they would like to stick to the work-from-home (WFH) setup is because they believe they can deliver the same needed results while working in their personal spaces. Also, they’ve gotten used to being with their loved ones and having a sense of freedom and work-life balance—which they feel would be taken away from them if they go back to the office.
 
Celis says a lot of people have even expressed their openness to pay cuts, or giving up certain benefits as long as they don’t report to work physically. Workers feel they will be giving up so much more when they’re back in the office: convenience, the opportunity to save time and money, freedom. 
 
It’s important for companies to assess where the employees’ anxiety is coming from, says the life coach. “What are they afraid of? What are they worried about? Because more often than not, these anxieties are based on mere assumption.” These issues could be addressed through onboarding sessions, says Celis, which life coaches like him have been doing with companies.
 
He says many companies are expecting its employees to return to work 100 percent right away—which is probably not the best way to approach things. Workers should instead be allowed to “work at their own pace in their own space so that adjustments can be made gradually,” Celis says. He suggests starting first with a three-day WFO and two-day WFH setup. This way, workers would be able to transition and adjust accordingly and not be stressed over the abrupt shift. 
 
Unaddressed anxiety could lead to loss of productivity, says the corporate life coach. And unhappiness would eventually lead employees to resign. “A lot of employees actually threaten to resign the moment that [return to workplace] was mentioned,” says Celis. “So I think if the companies really value their people, they would give them the time, space, and means to cope with their anxiety, so they can still be their best once they return to work.”