If you’re one of the millions of workers across the globe placed on temporary leave or 'furloughed' due to coronavirus, you may have worries about returning to your role.

On the one hand, time away from work may have given you the opportunity to reflect on your life’s direction and your future ambitions. On the other, a lack of structure and purpose could have impacted your self-esteem and self-worth and made maintaining your mental wellbeing more challenging. 

All of these feelings are entirely normal and as you return to work those anxieties may return and increase. All of these emotions will take time to process and it's important to share your concerns, hopes and fears with someone you trust and who can support you during this transition. Communicating clearly with your line manager and workplace about your needs is likely to make for a smoother return to work.

Here are some tips to help you navigate this new chapter:

Identify the source of your anxiety 
Knowing what you’re feeling anxious about makes it much easier to establish ways to manage that anxiety. Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to remove the source of your anxiety and focus on the things you have some control and influence over. Secondly, you might aim to present evidence for and against your worries. Distinguish the difference between what is FACT and what is ASSUMPTION. It is so easy to get carried away with fears of loss ... loss of status, loss of money, loss of power ... maybe even loss of home or the ability to support our families. Whilst there are people in the world who are quite literally experiencing these challenging circumstances, the chances are that right now you're not. In fact, you may be a long way off some of these things. Establish the true facts of your situation, both the positive and the negative. Make sure you include all the good things that exist in your life, the people who love you, the things you have that have meaning for you, your experience, your education etc. Stay focused on these facts and get familiar with categorising the difficult imagined parts to be exactly what they are ... assumption.

Reasoning through scenarios like this will help you to establish the difference between normal worries and anxieties that you are catastrophising to the point that it might feel overwhelming.

It’s all about finding a balance that you’re comfortable with, for instance if one of your concerns is travelling on public transport You might say to yourself that, on reflection, you don’t mind getting the bus as long as it’s not too full and people are following the guidance by wearing a facemask. But if it feels too busy and you feel your worries start to creep up, maybe wait for the next bus. Creating a plan in terms of what you will do in the face of your concerns is likely to give you more feelings of control and agency. 

Maintain an open dialogue with your line manager 
In the same way that investigating your thoughts allows you to reason through your worries, sharing them can help people understand how they can support you. If you have to go into work, familiarise yourself with the safety measures in place, or ask about flexible working if that’s an option for you. Gain support from HR or Occupational Health if you have specific concerns about existing health conditions or are living with people who are vulnerable. Ensure you have a clear return to work plan agreed with your line manager, which might include any upskilling or training you may need. 

Create a new routine for yourself 
Get used to getting up at the same time, having breakfast at the same time, dressing appropriately for work/video calls etc, preparing yourself mentally for a day of work.  Kids may start school at different times, you may be homeworking rather than office based, afterschool clubs may not be running so you may have to split working sessions.  Whatever it maybe, adopt a routine that works for you to find a new balance.

Be aware that some business processes may have changed
Throughout the pandemic many businesses have changed the way they do things. Teams working from home, daily catch ups, video calls and new technology are all things you may have to get used to.  Take some time to familiarise yourself with these changes.  If you are an employer, it’s a good idea to conduct a mini induction with someone starting back to get them up to date with any changes.

Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know/can’t remember how something is done, where documents are kept or passwords.  These things are easily forgotten when you are not doing them day in day out.  It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Take breaks
It’s easy to feel like because you have been off you need to get stuck in for hours on end to ‘catch up’ with work.  In truth, work is a lot more tiring when you haven’t done it for a while and it’s not productive to sit for hours at the laptop. If you’ve spent a lot of time outside during lockdown you may find you crave fresh air.  Pencil in regular breaks, maybe a walk around the block at lunchtime, to make sure that you don’t reach burnout point by the end of the day.

Take care of yourself
When you were off work it’s likely that looking after yourself was not a priority.  Now that you are back at work make sure prioritise your work-life balance.  Take the time for a bit of self-care – eat well, get to bed at a reasonable time, get some exercise, whatever it may be that works for you, treat yourself well.

Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you’ve been off for a while, it will take a while to get back into the swing of things.  It may take you longer to do things, you may lack motivation or struggle to concentrate for long periods of time. Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Take time to settle back in. If you feel you need more emotional support get in contact with CABA

Written by: Kirsty Lilley

Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing, as well as courses designed to help line managers support people with mental health difficulties effectively and continually works towards the reduction of stigma within workplace settings. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.

CABA provides free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff, and their close family members.

If you’re worried about the impact of the pandemic on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you.