Managing Return to Work Anxiety

Our coaching team have provided support to people returning to the workforce, whether from maternity leave, extended leave, sabbaticals etc, for over a decade and here offer their top tips to manage the transition back to work and/or a return to onsite working.


Anxiety over returning to work was an issue before Covid reared its ugly head and will be long after it’s gone, but the pandemic has created many uniquely challenging situations - returning to a changed workplace is one such example.

Unsurprisingly, our coaching team have received a lot of calls recently regarding this issue.

Work + Family Space’s Head of Coaching Iole Matthews explains: “When lockdown happened, it happened so quickly, there was no time to really imagine what could go wrong or dwell on disaster scenarios. The crisis was in the present, so people just had to deal with what was in front of them. That’s actually a key stress management tool – focussing your attention on the issue in front of you, not extrapolating scenarios out and worrying about the future.

“Now that we are facing the prospect of returning to a workplace – for some it may be in the next month or so, for some it may be next year - there’s a lot of anxiety about it. People seem worried about the practicalities of returning to work, falling back into old habits and losing the good things that have been gained over this turbulent period.

“And now there’s plenty of time to imagine all the things that can go wrong as well as the issue that no one really knows what is going to happen. So this becomes the mental equation: Uncertainty + Time = Anxiety.”

Take a look at our Coaching Team’s top tips to help manage these anxieties.

  1. Celebrate and build on what you have learnt thus far
    • Recognise you have survived a particularly challenging period already and you’ve done brilliantly to get this far. It’s important to acknowledge how resilient you’ve been and that it is unlikely that going forward anything will be as hard or unexpected.
    • Lockdown has provided a period of reflection and recalibration for many. If you are finding yourself anxious about the future, try to work out what you would like your life to look like going forward.
    • Use Neuroscience which shows that by building a clear, consistent, confident and positive picture of your future in your mind your brain can start rewiring connections, while imagining success regularly allows you to relax and focus on the work needed to turn this into reality.


  2. Prepare to negotiate for your desired future
    • Evaluate what you’ve enjoyed during lockdown – and what you haven’t – were there surprising upsides that you would like to keep going forward. Start building the things that you enjoy into your present world and consider what shifts may be needed to keep them in your life.
    • What new working practices have been incorporated into your working from home life that you would like to keep? Make a list of the business benefits and descriptions of how they contribute to your ability to deliver, so you are ready for conversations that may come up in the future.


  3. Manage your reaction to uncertainty
  • There may also be a need to renegotiate the ‘home contract’. With many roles and responsibilities having changed dramatically over the last few months, it may be that both partners will remain working from home, or one will return part time, or even full time into the office. It’s worth considering how these changes could affect the sharing of both mental and physical loads within the home.
  • On a practical level, is there any training you can undertake to enhance your skill set and boost your confidence, or new practices you could begin practicing to support your wellbeing, whether working from home or onsite. (For those returning from parental leave, KIT days can prove extremely valuable for this).
  • While one needs to accept that no one ever knows what’s coming around the corner, and no one ever did, pre-Covid many of us enjoyed a false sense of security. Now we have to face the reality that none of us know what the future holds and need to accept that as a fundamental truth and something that is out of our control.
  • Take a tip from the Stoics. These ancient Greek philosophers believed that while much of life lies beyond our control we do control what matters most: our mental and emotional states. “Change what you can, accept what you cannot” sums up the Stoic creed. Let go of what you think a situation “should be” and ease into acceptance, or at least tolerance, of what it “is”.
  • Create some buckets of certainty. The more you can have areas of certainty (things I am sure about), the better your brain can handle those areas of uncertainty (things I am unsure of). Create routines you can rely on, plan meals ahead for the week, read books and watch programmes that have familiar and known outcomes. Your brain will thank you for the break.
  • Time allows people to extrapolate out their worries and anxieties. Break down your timeframes to reduce the overwhelm. What can you see or focus on in the near future? Can you plan week by week or to the end of the month? Don’t try to plan for the rest of the year if it makes you anxious, instead create flexible frameworks to cover shorter more manageable periods.