Report: Returning to the office is a stressful thought for 100% of employees

From COVID-19 fears to having to wear a mask for an entire workday, every single employee that participated in a Limeade survey reported that the post-pandemic return to the office is causing anxiety.

Stressed woman working from home

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The results of a survey from software company Limeade found that every single participant in a pool of more than 4,500 office workers now working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic report that the thought of returning to the office is a source of anxiety. Businesses, Limeade said, need to take steps to help. 

Limeade, which makes a suite of employee experience software, reports the top sources of return-to-work stress include being exposed to COVID-19 (77%), the loss of work flexibility (71%), the added commute (68%), having to wear a mask while in the office (54%) and a need for childcare (22%). 

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In addition to those stressors, only 55% of respondents said they feel that their organization cares about them, and only 16% strongly agree with the same. This is a considerable drop from its 2020 report on the topic, Limeade said, in which 31% reported strongly agreeing that their employers cared about them. Combined with the above statistics about employee anxieties, Limeade said, shows that there's room for improvement when it comes to employers showing that they care for their workforce. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made employee autonomy a key part of well-being, said Limeade Institute director Dr. Reetu Sandhu. "Instead of focusing on the logistics of getting people back into the office, I encourage leaders to see this moment as an opportunity to ask employees, 'what do you want work to look like in the future so that you can do your best work and take care of yourself?' and then really listen and act accordingly. The outcome would be profound, both for people and for businesses."

With that in mind, Limeade has three major recommendations for how businesses can return to the office in the post-pandemic world without causing employees to feel unheard, stressed or alienated.

Ask for feedback, and take action

Fifty-six percent of respondents said that their organization hasn't asked for their opinions about return-to-work policies and procedures. Even worse, Limeade said, 45% of respondents said their employer takes little to no action based on employee surveys, and only 29% report that their employers share feedback with the company at all.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team's mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Listening to employees is important, Limeade said, but acting on what they say is even more important. Limeade recommends employee pulse surveys, all-hands Q-and-A sessions, and regular one-on-ones with leadership as essential parts of building quality communication between organizations and employees, as well as establishing trust. 

"Successful internal communications give employees the opportunity to be heard, and the organization to listen and act," Limeade said.

Don't get rid of flexible work options

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they want to continue having remote work and other flexibility options once the pandemic ends. The previously assumed drawback to remote employees—less productivity—simply hasn't been the case. Limeade said 81% of respondents even reported the same amount, or an increase, in their productivity during the pandemic. 

"This presents an opportunity for employers to reevaluate their physical work environments through the lens of what would most support their employees' well-being," Limeade said. Flexible work hours, hybrid work models, additional PTO and employee wellness programs can all be part of a model of employee expectations that favor caring for workers in the post-pandemic reality.

Employees and employers should partner on employee care

Its own research, Limeade said, "found that when employees feel they have organizational support and well-being, they're more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work, less likely to leave and more likely to be engaged at work."

Despite that, 60% of respondents said that their organization doesn't even talk about burnout in the workplace despite it being a major source of turnover and dissatisfaction. Organizations need to come together with their employees by using the other tips included here along with an emphasis on building mutual trust and respect, a feeling of safety and security, and allowing a certain degree of autonomy to build a happy workplace, Limeade concluded. 

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