African American woman standing in office and wear mask as protection from corona virus
ATD Blog

Effectively Regulating Emotions as Employees Return to the Office

Friday, August 28, 2020

The world is gradually reopening. As states, cities, and workplaces begin to transition to a more relaxed quarantine, minimizing employees’ potential exposure to COVID-19 is still a top priority for most companies. COVID-19 won’t disappear nor will the concerns that surround it. On its website the CDC offers resources for employers to practice as they prepare to reopen. Reopening businesses will come with challenges, and people will respond differently to the changes that are happening during the new normal.

The change for some of us is even more visible than for others. Jobs have been reduced, people have been furloughed, and some have even lost loved ones and breadwinners. Some workers will gladly head back to their offices and places of business, while others will do so with apprehension. Life will never be the same.

How Can We Help Our Fellow Employees Start Over?

Managing emotions during a crisis affects people differently. Returning to work after a pandemic is new territory for everyone, and we must have patience with ourselves and others while we navigate the process. Employers will need to educate supervisors and managers of the signs of emotional distress and encourage staff to seek treatment when necessary.

Some new research validates the psychological impact from quarantines involving SARS (11 studies), Ebola (5), the 2009 and 2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic (3), Middle East respiratory syndrome (2), and equine influenza (1). Researchers found the most common psychological symptoms related to quarantine-included depression, stress, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger, and emotional exhaustion. Involuntary quarantine caused much more stress than voluntary quarantine.

Here are some tips that can help you prepare your employees as they return to the office. In addition to sharing the safety protocols of the new normal, it is important to conduct an awareness briefing session about managing emotions during the pandemic

As a facilitator you may notice an atmosphere in which participants are a bit hesitant to share. Here is an icebreaker activity. Show five emoticons in your slide (such as the figure below).

Mendoza Emoticons.png
Then, ask them to choose one emoticon that describes how they feel as they are returning to office. You will hear your employees admitting their fears, sadness, and worry or mixed emotions. As they go back to the office, appreciate the employees for their hard work when working from home and their bravery to return to office. Encourage them to share about their current situation with family, loved ones, and children. Understanding their current situation will help build connection and show your empathy with your employees. Some mothers are faced with the problem of finding safe daycare for their children who are still not returning to school. Some parents are also worried that they may bring home the virus. Some are not sleeping well and suffering depression due to isolation. Whenever you validate their feelings, they will find their inner voice and inner strength. They will become more aware of how and why they think and feel the way they do, and it will result in a healthier perspective. One participant answered, “I am choosing the winking emoticon despite my fears because it means I am saying, “I got this.” Then I replied, “We got you! We are here for each other. You are not alone.” They were full of hope, optimism, courage, and bravery.

They realized that their feelings are temporary, that they may feel sad at one time and angry the next, but they said that they keep in mind their purpose. They committed to practicing safety measures, and they are grateful for the company for doing the same, like disinfecting the building, practicing social distancing, and giving a safety kit with masks and alcohol. They were also grateful to continue working despite the pandemic. In one of my sessions, I cannot put into words the catharsis that happened with each of the participants, which propelled them to be consistent with their purpose and state of being—that is, their determination to win and not give up. They are keeping the hope that soon the pandemic will end. I was supposed to inspire them in those sessions, but I felt they inspired me more than the opposite.

Here are the 5Fs to be mindful of during the briefing about managing emotions.

1. Your FEELINGS are valid. All vibes are welcome in the session. Allow your participants to acknowledge their emotions and that these feelings are normal. If they’re sharing a tough situation, express empathy. Assure them that they are not alone, share telephone numbers that they can call at any time, and announce regular daily meetings. Encourage them to be a positive, uplifting influence on themselves and others. Practice healthy expression and share some new self-management techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and stretching exercises.


2. Plan a FEASIBLE schedule. The pandemic has disrupted our usual routine, so it is important to have your own plan for how to return to work. Create daily habits like eating healthy and include physical fitness in your schedule. Other examples include spending five minutes stretching when you wake up, taking 10 minutes go out for some sunshine, listening to your favorite music for 30 minutes daily, taking 10 deep full breaths, and spending 10 minutes on mindful breathing or meditation before you sleep. The most important part of this is to be consistent.

3. Stay connected with your FAMILY and FRIENDS. We may be observing physical distancing, but it does not mean we are emotionally distant. There are various ways to stay connectd. Visit your phone contacts and call a friend to check on them. Write an email to someone special. Share a meal with a housemate. Spend time with children and the elderly. Spend time with your pet. Cultivate compassion and daily acts of kindness by being more compassionate and nonjudgemental.

4. Observe your FOLLOWING in social media. We can try to take a break from social media or practice digital detoxification. Turn off some of your notifications or set a three-hour limit of screen time for social media. Move apps away from the home screen. Share good news or inspiring quotes on your account. Set a preappointed time for social media. To avoid digital distractions, work at an hour-long interval. Set a timer for an hour and commit not to deviate.

5. FOCUS on surviving. Focus on what you can control or low-hanging fruits. Celebrate your small wins because those are molecules of progress. Recognize your hard work while working from home and your bravery in going back to work on-site.

During the pandemic people need to feel safe and secured due to the uncertainties. Psychological safety is something that we can provide using nonjudgmental and kind communication. Anyone can be on an emotional rollercoaster right now. Feeling eager. Angry and fuming. Sad and crying. Hopeful and searching. We are here to listen and acknowledge to them that times are hard. While we are all still weathering this storm, it is time for us to do our inner work, support each other, and keep the hope, love, and light amid these challenging times.

About the Author

Marife B. Mendoza is a master avatar at TaskUs Clark, Philippines.

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