Covid 19 – Going back to the workplace

Covid 19
Going back to the workplace

Dr Hugo Gonzales

So much has changed since Covid-19 first threatened our way of life. The world and life as we know it, has been strongly influenced by the pandemic. Many lives, jobs have been lost and lives of communities have been disrupted as a result. We have all been forced to find a new normal. Now that Australia is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time for life to slowly return to what it was. However, with the huge changes to how we lived in the past few months and the stress from the pandemic, the change back to normal life itself will take some major adjustments and at times there could be struggles too when embracing a new normal.

With the Covid-19 not being eliminated yet, returning too soon to the workplace may bring about significant consequences of a second wave of infections. At the same time, delaying the return to work may have drastic consequences on businesses as well. There are many possible precautions we can take so we can better transition back. Here are some tips to keep in mind so you can effectively navigate through the transition.

Emotional wellbeing

  • Our mortality being challenged – For many, this is the first time that we have experienced such an event. It has caused us to question our sense of invincibility and deal with our own vulnerabilities.
  • Living with uncertainty – COVID-19 has introduced in our lives the unknown factor. We value having control over our circumstances. We pride ourselves in being able to predict outcomes. This pandemic has demonstrated to us that we cannot always be in control of things. It is okay to feel vulnerable and fragile while returning to work as this is a feeling shared by most.
  • Things will no longer go back to exactly how they used to be – How we lived has changed and even with life returning to normal, we are left with a new normal to adjust to as well. We only hope that this new normal has been reached with a sense of maturity and further insight on how we each can contribute to change, and our willingness to adapt and accept our new circumstances.
  • Communication with loved ones – Working from home has changed the dynamics of your relationship with loved ones. Continue building on that communication and if that was challenged by the isolation, please put in the extra effort to be in close communication with loved ones.
  • Isolation may have revealed some other issues in your life – Being in isolation is not always negative as it allows you to gain a better insight about yourself and provide an opportunity to grow. On the other hand, it can also bring a sense of fragmentation that can push people further into a sense of alienation. Be mindful of both these situations. 
  • For some who have gone through traumatic experiences in their past, this pandemic with the mortality issues, isolation, and distress may trigger PTSD symptoms that will be important to discuss with counsellors.
  • It is okay to feel emotionally drained at times – Remember that this pandemic has caused not only you but others significant stress and anxiety. Additionally, the pandemic has triggered many feelings of anger, anguish and rage that can be a problem if not dealt with properly.
  • Inner walls may have been built – You may have become more guarded in your relationships/building relationships as you were caught up with just being with yourself and have become too comfortable not being around people.  You will get used to be around people again, slowly but surely.
  • Worry about families, relatives and friends abroad – It is understandably to worry and feel anxious about loved ones that are overseas. Make sure you stay connected to them as this will help you get a better understanding of how they are instead of having your mind wonder about the endless possibilities that may not be reality.
  • Be kind to yourself, give time and space for yourself to adapt back. Progress is not always linear, if you did not succeed at first, it does not mean you never will.
  • Blame only alienates us from each other – Our anger and frustration precipitated by this pandemic and the impact of finances, relationships and health outcomes can lead us to seek fault in partners, communities, workplace, social institutions, politicians and countries. Blame can deflate us, make us more vulnerable and prevent us from growing and adapting in the face of this adversity. 

Workplace adjustments

  • Keep in close contact and communication with your supervisors and managers – Remember that we are all together in this process. Others will be able to relate and support you through your fears and anxieties.
  • You may feel a sense of being lost – Realising that health can be affected at any time and none of us are immune to it, there is a better understanding that our job security is not solely based on our work performance but situations beyond our control. It is okay to feel lost, seek help, support and encouragement when in this situation.
  • Build collegial morale – Returning to the workplace can be unsettling for some employees and managers have a role in encouraging and motivating affected staff. Talk to your colleagues and friends and reinforce that we can stand together and emerge better out of this situation. 
  • Keep communicating as you did during the pandemic crisis – As part or our duty of care for the Murdoch family, communication has been a constant in order to preserve the health and wellbeing of the overall community. Returning to the workplace can only be safely facilitated by continuous dialogue and empathic communication.
  • Continue creating new tools for teaching and learning – The pandemic has allowed us to nurture new pedagogic approaches to online learning that have been added to previously face-to-face classroom tools. These innovative approaches have positively contributed to our repertoire of teaching skills.
  • We live in a collegial community – We all belong to this university community. Regardless of our roles as managers, supervisors, academic and non-academic staff and students, we are being able to get through this pandemic by applying a system of care. Now we are back to the workplace, we need to continue looking after each other, check in on each other and provide each other with encouragement and support.
  • Triumph over tragedy – The fact that we are returning to the workplace signals that our common effort and social responsibility has triumphed. Although Covid-19 is not abated yet, a sense of hope and resilience is beginning to shine. This journey has reminded us of our humanity after so many losses around the world.
  • We care for our students – Many of our students have locally lost their jobs, families overseas are ill or experiencing financial strain. As a university community we support our students and when needed, responding as the “loco parentis” for those most vulnerable in our midst.

Simple rules

  • Be respectful of the social distancing conventions and if you experience any departures to these regulations, be assertive and prompt to review.
  • Don’t just ask others “how are you?” remember to ask yourself that too – Have regular pulse checks with yourself on how you are doing and reach out when you may need help.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for life to return to normal – Think about how it used to be like and imagine yourself in that place/situation. Prepare yourself for what is to come so you can better manage it when it comes.
  • Seek help if you need it – Seek help from someone who is professionally equipped to support you, as they will be able to give you practical advice and useful tips to better cope. An extra pair of ears always helps too! 
  • We are not an island – This pandemic has confirmed that we are not alone. We all have a place in this global village and through our connections with each other, we can lend each other a helping hand through these times. 

The new chapters of resilience 

I conclude this brief on returning to the workplace after covid-19 with this short story:

There was a blind girl who hated herself purely for the fact she was blind. The only person she didn’t hate was her loving boyfriend, as he was always there for her. She said that if she could only see the world, she would marry him. One day, someone donated a pair of eyes to her – now she could see everything, including her boyfriend. Her boyfriend asked her, “now that you can see the world, will you marry me?” The girl was shocked when she saw that her boyfriend was blind too and refused to marry him. Her boyfriend walked away in tears, and later wrote a letter to her saying: “Just take care of my eyes dear.”

In the face of adversity and changes that we have experienced in the world, we must not forget that despite tragedy, we can see the light of resilience and love.