When I was interviewing for jobs in the pandemic, my first question was “What are you plans to return to work?”
The answer was always “We don’t know.”
I have been confronted with conflicting emotions as a result of vaccines being released and infections dropping.
Although I felt relieved that things were improving, I still felt a sense of dread. I was unsure if I ever wanted back to work.
It wasn’t that I wanted to avoid the commute. There were long hours under fluorescent lights and a colleague who was just a bit too interested in the business of everyone else.
Truth was, I couldn’t let go of my fear.
After being scared of getting too close to someone for over a year, I was unsure if things would ever get back to normal.
Surveys by Harvard Business School, Future Forum by Slack show that a significant portion of the population does not want to work full-time again.
According to a Live Career survey, 29 percent of employees would be willing to quit if they were unable to work remotely. 62 percent said that they prefer remote work and will give preference to those who can.
Even people who have been vaccinated share the same feelings.
The American Psychological Association conducted a survey and found that 48% of those who have been vaccinated are anxious about going back to face-to-face interactions.
“Many of our new routines required us to adjust painfully,” said Erin Engle. She is an assistant professor in medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center.
Engle states that “despite this stress, some found unexpected positive benefits in working from home which included closeness to family and increased productivity as well as convenience.”
The problem isn’t just that the future is uncertain. As scientists gain more information about the virus, more people are vaccinated.
Experts share their tips and tricks to help you feel more at ease when you return to work.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC (Trusted Source) announced in May 2021 that masks were not necessary if you have been fully vaccinated.
The World Health Organization’s Trusted Source encouraged people to wear their variant masks at a press conference on June 25, 2021.
Although the CDC has not changed its guidance, the contradictions between WHO (and the CDC) are at best confusing.
Many places have lifted mask mandates based on the honor system. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you can still wear your mask.
This can lead to mistrust between employees.
“Unfortunately, honor systems work only to the extent that all parties are honorable,” says Philip Tierno professor of microbiology at the NYU Grossman College of Medicine. A mask can be worn by workers who are suspicious of a colleague’s inability to get vaccinated.
“Trust is low at this time,” states Adam Mandel, Ph.D., a NYU Langone Health clinical psychologist. “With the pandemic, we cannot see the virus. We can’t even see who has it, [and] it’s not possible to see if it is on us or around us. It is very difficult to trust other people with your life.
It’s not easy for everyone to take off their masks. Even after your vaccination, it may take some time before you feel completely safe without a mask.
You may want to keep at least one mask in your bag, or at your desk, for safety reasons. Also, make sure you follow all local and workplace mandates.
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Tierno says that surface transmission is less common. You can still spread [COVID-19] if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your nose, mouth, eyes or nose.
It is easy to find the solution.
He continues, “Even though it is a less effective means of transmission you should still wash your hands as often as possible — especially if you come in contact with things that have been touched or touched by others,” he says. This is the smartest thing that you can do.
Washing your hands regularly will help you avoid other bacteria and viruses, and make you a more healthy lifestyle overall.
If you feel more at ease, wipe down your desk, especially if it is shared with someone else.
Tierno states, “If you see people in the office before yours, you can clean their desks, because aerosol transmission may have occurred.”
Any traces of the virus should be removed with alcohol wipes or disinfectants.
Sanitizing will continue to be an effective idea despite the newer variants.
If you have a child or a family member who is not currently vaccinated, you may consider physical distancing.
We will not know for sure if unvaccinated persons can become infected with the new variants until we have more information.
Engle says, “It is instinctual to protect those that we love, especially when loved one are vulnerable.” It’s instinctual to limit risk for parents, grandparents, and those who live in multigenerational households or have a family member with a medically fragile condition.
It is possible to reduce risk by following the same precautions as you did from day one.
Tierno says that crowds provide a perfect environment to spread the virus. “Crowds can contain people who have been vaccinated and those who have not, as well as others who may be infected with the virus,” Tierno said.
Because vaccines don’t work 100% of the time, avoid large crowds and wear a mask when you are in tight spaces or crowded places.
Fresh air improves the air circulation and reduces your chance of contracting an infection.
You have the right to open windows or doors in your workplace. Take advantage of it.
A breeze can prevent air from becoming stale, allowing for ventilation and decreasing the risk of virus transmission.
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Many employers require employees to be vaccinated before they return to work.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that on June 1, 2021 it was legal for employers to require vaccinations for all employees unless the employee has a medical dispensation.
It is safer to go back to work if your employer has requested the vaccine. Ask your employer whether they have any other safety procedures.
Many employers, for example, are:
You can feel more secure asking your employer about safety procedures. It can also help you make decisions about the safety measures that you would like to follow on your own.
Many people are excited to meet each other in person. Unwanted handshakes or hugs might occur.
The thing is it’s okay to decline physical touch. You should never be touched by anyone without your permission, pandemic or otherwise.
Make a plan to make you feel safe and comfortable if you are feeling uneasy. Next, communicate with your colleagues in a friendly but direct manner.
Engle states that clear communication is crucial in helping coworkers, even close friends, understand your needs around safety and personal boundaries. It can be useful to keep in mind that others’ boundaries and limits may be different from ours.
She suggests that you try to be open-minded and non-judgmental about bringing up the subject.
Avoid accusations, and instead, use “I” statements to express your feelings and explain why you believe your boundaries are important.
Engle suggests that you might say, “I know it’s tiring wearing a mask, however, I have a loved one at home who hasn’t yet had the vaccine. I’m concerned about their well-being, even though I’ve been vaccinated.”
Some anxiety comes with the territory after more than a year of living through a pandemic. Even when things improve, it can be difficult to adjust to how life used to be.
Mandel says it’s somewhat analogous to military personnel going to war then coming home.
He continues, “When someone flew off to war they fly off into a very different environment and they train extensively to adapt to that environment.”
They are told repeatedly, as they learn new behaviors, that if this is not done, their teammates and friends, and, maybe killed or seriously injured. They are training their brains to engage in a variety of behaviors to keep them safe.
Many troops return home from deployment with a difficult re-entry process.
Mandel explained that there are many indicators that something is changing — people sound different, language is different and smells are different — but they don’t retreat from the behaviors they have learned.”
Mandel says that we are all experiencing something similar in some ways as we recover from the pandemic.
He says, “We thought everything was fine and we were just going about our daily lives.” “But, overnight we began to feel unsafe… just as the soldiers returning to war, this constant activation of the Amygdala, and the safety behavior have been so ingrained it’s difficult to put them aside.”
This means that the fear we feel and the safety habits we’ve learned won’t disappear overnight. They will remain until we feel secure and ready to let go.
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concerns can be justified if your employer doesn’t implement safety measures.
You have the right to speak up if you suspect that someone is lying about their vaccination, if an employee refuses to touch you, or if you don’t believe your employer is following safety procedures.
Mandel states that employers are typically required to address basic safety and occupational concerns. “Anyone concerned should speak up, and I encourage them to do so often. Ideally, they should speak to someone in management, or human resources, who can address their concerns.
It is important to understand that your employer can legally require you to return home from work and fire you if it doesn’t.
You might want to consider whether or not you can afford to lose your job if you really don’t wish to return.
This is a common decision for many Americans. You have the best chance of finding a job if you are in this situation.
You can negotiate a better arrangement with your employer.
Ask your employer about a hybrid or extended remote schedule. This is especially important if:
Over the past year, you did an excellent job at home.
You are unable to find suitable childcare for your family member or caretaker for them.
Pre-existing conditions could put your health at risk when you return to work.
These accommodations may be legal in some instances. For more information, contact your Human Resources representative.
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Mandel says that if someone feels powerless over their own safety, and they continue to feel this way for a long time, they are more likely to develop a trauma-related disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Many people felt powerless after the pandemic.
Mandel states, “No one went to their local health department saying, ‘I’ll have the pandemic and some fries.'”
Some of us feel re-traumatized after a difficult year. We’re told we need to go back to work.
Mandel explained, “When we are told that it’s our turn by a power greater than ourselves, like a corporation, that it’s our turn to return to work and that we have no control over that, it echoes what we experienced during the pandemic.” That can lead to instability.
Some people might feel anxious or depressed as a result.
Engle identifies the following warning signs as a sign that you may have anxiety about returning to work:
StudiesTrusted source have demonstratedTrusted source that early intervention can be beneficial in promoting mental health and post-traumatic growth.
If you are having trouble with the idea of returning to work, or feeling anxious or depressed, you should consult a mental health professional as soon as possible.
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Going back to work is, in many ways, a sign that we are likely to be able to overcome the pandemic. You are not the only one who is anxious, afraid, or unhappy about returning to work.
It’s true that you can take steps to safeguard yourself and mentally or physically prepare for the next step.
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