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Managing re-entry anxiety in the hybrid workplace


Re-entry anxiety is not an isolated issue impacting individual employees – stress is contagious and can easily spread to the wider team.


Fear is a basic human mechanism which helps us to survive. When something scares us, we are triggered, and through fear, we learn to avoid that danger in the future. And when we avoid that danger, we feel rewarded. However, while fear helps us survive, when mixed with uncertainty, it can have a negative effect on mental health and lead to anxiety. And when anxiety is spread in the workplace, it can have a significant impact on the organisational culture.


Acknowledging contagious behaviours


Humans naturally mimic other people’s behaviours if they spend time together. We all experienced when someone’s negative mood brings down the energy and morale in a meeting or the office. However, positive emotions can spread, too and leaders have an opportunity to drive team morale by offering support and motivate their employees. Research suggests that we need five positive interactions to outweigh one negative one – meaning that leaders can turn the tables of emotional contagion by offering praise, recognition, and compliments to their employees.


Anxiety often leads us to reflexively make decisions that are not ultimately in our best interest. It can produce fatigue, concentration problems and worsening of existing health conditions — all of which can negatively impact work performance. Protecting employees from the emotional contagion that can affect teams as they return to the office can not only increase the psychological safety, but also limit fear-fuelled behaviours. On the other hand, if leaders don’t address the sources of re-entry anxiety and assist employees in managing their mental health, this can be harmful for productivity and engagement levels.


Communicating with empathy


A consistent cadence of communications from leaders is key to managing employee anxiety. Harvard Business Review research shows that employees who regularly receive updates from their organisation have a more positive view of their employers and they are more likely to be proud to work for their organisation. Employees are looking to their leaders more than ever for guidance and support, and what leaders say and do plays a significant part in determining how organisations perform in the post-Covid economy.


When leaders communicate with transparency and empathy, it helps employees to reduce re-entry stress. Transparency builds trust in leaders and conveys respect for employees, whilst communicating with empathy can foster resilience. Most leaders need to communicate to staff far more often than they think is necessary. Frequent communication is essential, even though some leaders may feel that the core messages are repetitive. Leaders need to acknowledge that employees need to hear these messages multiple times and different people may need to hear messages in different ways and through different channels.


The anxious brain is a master of reactivity and not productivity — superficially tending to many things, but substantively resolving none. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.