Returning to the Workplace

Reviewed Mar 9, 2023


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Two mental health experts offer advice to help you transition well back to the workplace from working remotely.

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Welcome to another episode of our wellness podcast. I'm Mark DeFee and with me, is KC Schroder. We're both licensed therapists who focus on workplace mental health.

We're also pretty good friends so we're gonna have a little bit of fun. Maybe tell some stories but most importantly, we're gonna give you some great information to help you develop both personally and professionally. Does that sound good? All right! Let's dive in!

We are talking about a pretty timely topic today and it is around return to work. And I feel like if you ask 10 different people, you're going to get 10 different opinions about how they feel regarding returning to the workplace. So, excited to be here today. And how are you? And what do you think?

Well, I'm doing well. Thanks for asking, Mark. What do I think about this timely topic? Well, it's funny because I feel like in the past two to three weeks, especially it has been talked about more and more either with the clients I work with or even people in my personal life. I feel like it is time people are starting to return to that workplace that they haven't been to since March of 2020.

Yeah, a 42% of the US workforce has been working from home full-time during the pandemic.

Wow! Half almost half of us in the workforce. That is incredible.


That is incredible.

And the emotions span the spectrum here in terms of what people are going to be feeling. And you can experience more than one emotion at a time. So people could be elated and excited to see their co-workers while at the same time scared that they might bring something home accidentally to high-risk individual and their family. So there's going to be just all these different things bouncing around in people's heads. It's going to take some time I think for all of us to get used to.

It is. It's going to take some time to get used to. But I think we really have to remember that at the base of all these emotions about returning back to the workplace at the core of them, it's really just our feelings about change. Because at the end of the day this is just yet another change that we have to go through. A year and a half ago, March 2020, our change was going to home to work. And I think about how much that rocked us. I mean it was very very out of the blue. I think we do have more plans around returning to the workforce than we did, leaving the workforce obviously or workplace. But at the core it's change. And I think if we take a step back from thinking about it as returning back from the pandemic… Start thinking about it as change then, we can talk about how we cope with change. And I think the first thing about change is that we have to remember that there's different stages of change. Just like there's stages of grief there's also stages of change. And these stages are: Denial is number one. Number two is anger or frustration. Number three is bargaining. Number four is depression or exhaustion and number five is acceptance. And all of us go through these different stages. Sometimes these stages last longer than others. And sometimes we might bounce back and forth between the stages. But in order to get to the point where you're accepting change you do have to go through all of these stages.

I completely agree. And I think it's helpful knowing that there's a model there. Can you give us an example of a scenario someone might be experiencing and how they might be going through that change model?

Sure. I think one example would be someone who might have been working from home for the past year and a half: They have their kids at home with them. They have their animals with them. And now they're part of… let's say, a pilot program or something to come back to the work a couple days a week… workplace a couple days a week. And hearing that and being asked to come back you're gonna be thrown into the first stage of change which is denial. So that person would probably think “oh my gosh, there's no way this is happening! What am I gonna do with my pets? What am I gonna do with my animals? There's no way that this is happening.” The second phase would be… your stage would be frustration or anger. And this person would then ask themselves “I can't believe that they're doing this to me”. Or they would say to themselves “I can't believe they're doing this to me. How dare they?”

Yeah, it's too early.

Yeah, it's too early. Or first, “they thrusted me at home and now I’m here back and how am I supposed to cope with everything?”

Or get my work done if all these changes keep happening.

Exactly, exactly. And then, the next stage would be bargaining. And that's when the person would probably be like “well, maybe if I show my boss how productive I am at home. And I do extra special good for the next week, maybe…

Extra special good… [Laughs]

Right. Get an A++. Then, maybe I can kind of sneak by and not have to do this change. Just let's see how we can bargain our way through this.

Yeah, maybe I’ll get an exception

[Laughs] Exactly, exactly. The next stage would be depression or exhaustion. And some people get stuck in this phase, unfortunately, for a while. And this is when that person who was just bargaining with their boss all of a sudden says: “you know what? It's just not worth it. Like clearly anything I do, isn't going to matter. Who knows what's going to happen? The world is kind of feeling a little dark right now.”

It's almost like that. Full recognition, my efforts haven't changed anything.


I'm still stuck in that place of not wanting this to happen.


And now, I’ve tried everything and I don't know what else to do.

Right. Right. This change is going to happen no matter what I do. And it's going to stink no matter how I approach it.


And then, the last stage and again, you have to work through all other four before you get to this one. But it's acceptance. It is “well, this is happening and I can choose to get stuck in exhaustion or I can choose to continue down the road”. And this change might be good, it might be bad but I’m here and I’m gonna do it.

Yeah. Yeah, I’m gonna be required to do it so I need to change my attitude and wrap my head around it and just get going.

Mm, exactly.

And, I think it brings comfort to have a model during a time when so many things feel out of control during change. But being able to sit back and say, “Okay, this is what other people experience. Everyone's experiences are unique to them but there's still people who've gone through similar emotions. And, so I think it seems very comforting to have that model.

I think you're absolutely right. And also, it's not just comforting, it gives us a sense of what to expect. The thing about change that really throws people is that a lot of times it's not in your control. Knowing about this model… knowing that your feelings of bargaining or denial or wherever you are on the spectrum. Knowing that those are normal…quote, unquote “normal”, really might put you back in the driver's seat. It might make you feel a little bit more in control

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely and I think one key piece to that is to stay conscious of where you are within these steps, where you can be on autopilot. And get in that negative thought cycle. And look up and be like “oh I’m in this stage”. And if that happens, do that very thing: stop and “okay, where am I? And become conscious of where you are because knowing where you are can help you move through it. So that's a key piece here. I know we are running out of time today and wanted to kick it to you, KC for your final thought on this subject.

Well, my final thought is this: it's awesome to hear about this this change model or stages of changes. But it really is just theoretical unless you make it actionable and practical for you. So how you do that? Like Mark said: become conscious of where you are, what you’re feeling, and how you are reacting. Once you do that, make an action plan as to how you're going to progress. Make yourself a little bit better and then, revisit it and commit to it.

I like it. Personal action plan to make sure you're staying on track.


Thanks everybody for listening. We hope you're all doing well. Until we speak again, take care and be well.

If you're looking for more information on this topic, use the search function on the right hand side of this website.




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