Workplace reopening: What is re-entry anxiety and how do we overcome it?
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Workplace reopening: What is re-entry anxiety and how do we overcome it?

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Chad Yip, Clinical Psychologist, Noah & Zoey, shares three tips for employers to alleviate re-entry anxiety, including prioritising employee wellbeing, offering flexible work arrangements. Meanwhile, individuals can try keeping a journal to document their thoughts while taking baby steps in developing new habits.

It has been a year since the Circuit Breaker was implemented and workplaces have now been reopened to accommodate up to 75% of the workforce and split team arrangements are no longer necessary. Against the backdrop of workplace reopening, Singaporeans might start to experience varying degrees of anxiety known as 're-entry anxiety'– a new trend where individuals experience higher levels of stress in response to the fear of changes that will happen when we can socialise, shop and travel again.

Recognising signs and symptoms of re-entry anxiety

As re-entry anxiety kicks in, we will tend to experience a rollercoaster of emotions when we begin to step back into society. The brain will create negative scenarios as a protective mechanism. These anxious thoughts tend to affect our ability to maintain healthy routines and engagement with others. If this goes into overdrive it can manifest as symptoms of anxiety. These can include irregular eating and sleeping habits, inability to engage in activities that were once enjoyed, feelings of heightened physiological anxiety, such as heart racing and a decrease in work productivity.

However, humans are creatures of habits and routine. Once we find ourselves a regular routine and ingrain a new set of habits, we will start to feel calmer. There is no fixed timing as to how long we will experience re-entry anxiety. Once we have that mindset shift, we are well on our way to alleviating re-entry anxiety.

3 tips for employers and individuals to alleviate re-entry anxiety

Employers can try the following three tips: 

  1. Prioritise employee wellbeing
    Put the wellbeing of their employees at the forefront. Have regular check-ins with employees to understand how they are coping with the whole situation. This encourages open conversations with the employees and allows for any warning signs of emotional distress to be identified ahead of time.
  2. Implement an effective mental health support programme
    Introduce external mental health programmes so that employees can seek professional help when needed. With the advent of telehealth, these programmes can come in the form of online therapy sessions. According to a study, online therapy sessions were found to be 80% as or more effective than traditional in-person therapy and counselling. This provides more convenience and flexibility for employees to schedule a session as they do not need to spend time commuting or waiting.
  3. Offer flexible work arrangements
    Do not rush to bring all the employees back into the office. Offer flexibility according to employees’ preferences and personal commitments. The past year of working from home has proven to be largely effective for the majority of the industries in Singapore. As such, allow employees to make their own choices to encourage a gradual shift back to fully reopened workplaces.

While individuals can take note of the three tips below:

  1. Take baby steps to develop new habits
    Set small progressive goals that could help to overcome the anxiety such as taking public transport to work during non-peak hours. These simple goals can help you regain some sense of control and help confront your sources of anxiety. By doing so, you will be able to make gradual adjustments to assimilate back into society.
  2. Keep a journal to document your thoughts
    Journaling can have positive health benefits. Give yourself 10 minutes a day to write down all your thoughts, be it positive or negative, and set it aside after you have completed journaling. This can help you gain perspective, clarity and understand your thoughts and emotions better.
  3. Seek professional help if things get overwhelming
    Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you currently feel like your problems are not going away despite your best efforts. There are many outlets available for you to seek help, such as online counselling.

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