How to Improve Mental Health When Returning to the Office

Since March 2020, many of us have been working from home. Along the way, we’ve worn many hats: parent, teacher, counselor, cheerleader — in addition to professional. Now, many of us are heading back to the office. After carrying so much responsibility, returning to the office should seem like a blessing.

That may not be how it feels for many of us. If you already feel burnt out and stressed, you aren’t alone. According to a recent survey, 41% of people are experiencing burnout from work-related stress. At the same time, only 17% of people feel their workplaces prioritize mental health.

With the stressful lives we lead, it has never been more important to commit to your mental health. So what can you do to care for your mental health as you transition from remote work to being back at the office? How can you create more work-life balance while avoiding workplace burnout?

After all, if you show employees you value your own mental health, employees will know they can too.

Prioritize self-care

Self-care is a buzzword that floats around on social media, but it is part of leading a healthy, balanced life. Although that phrase may conjure visions of spreading oatmeal on your face while painting your toenails, it’s so much more.

At its core, self-care means prioritizing the basic tasks you need to survive and thrive. That can mean preparing well-balanced lunches for work on Sundays. It may mean turning off the TV an hour earlier so you can get a better night of sleep. It also means challenging yourself to drink more water and cut back on caffeine.

Also, although it may be tempting to put in extra hours during the transition, you should make time for yourself and your family. Taking vacation days now could mean saving yourself sick leave down the road.

Set realistic goals

How often have you started your day with a to-do list so long, you feel defeated before you begin? We are all guilty of doing that. Although goals can be a helpful way to prioritize and focus your activity, setting lofty goals can have the opposite effect.

Try shifting your thinking by keeping “done” lists. Write down tasks as you complete them and celebrate those wins. Before long, you will see just how much you accomplish in a day. Over time you will notice patterns in how you spend your days and what obstacles get in your way.

Show yourself grace as you switch to an attitude of gratitude. It takes time to create healthy habits, but when you do, you will be able to achieve your best results for you and your company — and happy employees who can increase your profitability.

Create a culture of mental health care

Building a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health will have a lasting impact on you and your employees.

Start by having conversations about the importance of mental health care. Share resources that are already available, such as Employee Assistance Programs or mental health coverage in employee insurance policies. This conversation helps to remove barriers you and your employees might have about seeking mental health care. Take advantage of these programs even if you feel well. You do not need to be in crisis to benefit from them.

If your workplace does not have programs in place, work with your Human Resources Department with proposals on how mental health care can become a priority.

In the meantime, find a counselor or therapist who can offer you support. Several providers now offer virtual therapy sessions, which means you can attend therapy during your lunch break or commute.

Change your commute

For most of the past two years, our daily commute has been from the bedroom to our workplace. As we return to the office, that time will increase significantly. Try turning your commute into a positive experience. Listen to inspiring podcasts or create a playlist with music that pumps you up on the way to the office and centers you on the trip home. Bring a healthy snack or a beverage that gives you a boost.

If you find yourself dreading the amount of time you’ll spend in the car or on public transportation, it might be time to think about moving closer to your office. A shorter commute means more time to spend with your family and taking care of yourself. Although this may seem like a drastic measure, time is money — and think of how much time you would save. In this market, you can sell your home quickly, but beware that it’s also difficult to buy a home, too.

If you understandably don’t want to move, consider swapping your commute by car with public transportation if possible. Sitting on a bus or train will allow you to get back some “you” time, whether it’s by reading a book, playing a game on your phone, or catching up on the news.

Encourage vacation days — and take some yourself

In 2020, the majority of American workers took less time off than before the pandemic. Don’t let this become a habit with your employees.

Paid time off has proven to make employees even more productive when they are working, and it’s one of the best ways to improve your mental health.

One of the easiest ways to encourage employees to take vacation days is to take them yourself. You need time off, too. Your employees and colleagues will keep the company in good shape in your absence.

Use time-off tracking tools such as ZoomShift and BambooHR to make it easy for employees to request time off and let them know they can and should use their PTO.

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Author: Kristen Herhold

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