Employees' stress & anxiety about returning to the workplace.
1 simple way to ease it.


With lockdown coming to an end and organisations creating re-entry plans for their employees, the anxiety people have been experiencing since the onset of the pandemic is shifting.

The inevitable return to the physical work environment has branched out into various stress-inducing worries. Such as levels of safety in the office and on public transport (not to mention the stressful nature of transport in itself); What returning to work means for childcare, the overwhelm people already feel because of working from home without definitive work/life boundaries.

Amongst others, there is also fear around how people’s mental health will be affected as a result of this massive transition. Especially after a year of isolation that has heavily impacted the mental health of so many, already. So, how can leaders begin the conversations with their employees about returning to the office – especially those feeling apprehensive about it?

One way is to help guide your employees in laying out a hierarchy of the feared situations they think could arise from returning to the office. They may be worried about having to get on public transport to travel to work, for instance. Or, they might be nervous about having face-to-face meetings with large groups of people.

Listing out all of the scenarios that cause employees anxiety is a CBT technique used by some of our coaches and mental health professionals at Thrive. But, it’s also something incredibly simple for managers to implement in conversations with team members.

Guided Steps

Step 1:

Start by getting them to list their feared situations relating to their imminent return to work. Beginning with the one they’re most anxious about at the top of the list, eventually ending with their least feared situation at the bottom.

Step 2:

Encourage them to give a rating that reflects how much stress and anxiety they feel about each one. They may need to re-order the list a few times until they feel sure it captures all their fears prioritised in order of significance for the individual.

Step 3:

Use their list to guide the process of gradually facing each of these scenarios. Helping them identify ways to begin tackling some of their smaller fears. For example, if one fear is suddenly having to go on public transport every day, see how they feel about attempting to go in just one day this week, two the following, and so on.

Eventually, you’ll help them work their way up the list, agreeing on ways they can overcome other worries as they go. This simple approach will help individuals build more confidence with each step they take and lead them towards overcoming the feelings of stress, worry and fear around their re-entry into work.

Beginning The Conversation

If you need to have conversations with your employees regarding their anxieties about transitioning back into the office, these initial questions will help you open out an honest, useful and insightful line of discussion. The rest can be found in our eBook: The Practical Coaching Toolkit for Effective Leaders.  

  • What’s most on your mind?  
  • What would make you feel different? 
  • What’s going to get in the way? 
  • What do you feel you most need? 
  • What do you need from me? 
  • What would make the workplace more enjoyable? 

Employees want to feel sure that their employers are championing their mental health and well-being – particularly during this difficult transition. Use this to begin an ongoing process of learning and discovery to implement a sufficient means of support for your people in the long term.

To find out how Thrive can help you to support your staff in returning to the office.