How To Put Your Emotional Well-Being First As You Navigate A Workplace Transition Post-Pandemic
PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — It’s a topic of conversation for many people these days: When are you returning to the office?
The question itself can be anxiety-inducing, whether you’re ready to return or prefer to keep your workspace at home. But experts said there are lessons all of us can take from the pandemic to positively change the workspace as it relates to our mental health.
Morgan Hurst has her hands full with 18-month-old twin girls, Bexley and Blakeley. “Two mischievous girls. I think that’s like a twin thing, though,” she said, laughing.
Hurst is a financial analyst and has worked from home during the pandemic. She set up a makeshift office in her bedroom and hired help to take care of her girls while she was working.
“Even though I am working when I’m working, it’s still nice to come down and have lunch with my kids or if I hear a cry, (I can) come down and ask the caregiver, what’s going on and what’s wrong,” she said.
As a new mother, Hurst appreciated the flexibility working remotely offered her young family. But she knew a workplace transition post-pandemic might be in sight.
“There was underlying anxiety because … I couldn’t imagine every day going to work and leaving my kids,” she said. “I was feeling more stressed.”
The uncertainty weighed on her. Yet Hurst said she works in part to actually benefit her mental well-being. “I mean, it’s amazing that my kids need me, but it’s really cool when like a CEO needs me too. It just gives me a lot of fulfillment,” she said. “I love my job. I’ve always wanted a career.”
“But after you’re home with your kids, for a year and a half, it’s hard to imagine having to go back to work every day,” she said.
Between her shared love for work and motherhood, Hurst was looking for a way to openly discuss what that transition would look like with her manager. Initially, she was nervous to start the conversation.
“I probably had 10 to 15 discussions and the only purpose of the meeting was to figure out, ‘Hey, like, how could I do my job and make you happy? And how can I still feel like I’m at home and having work-life balance?'” she explained.
James Hadlock is the co-founder & chief evangelist of a company called Blunovus. “We are an emotional support service. We’re a leadership training company that really focuses on proactively addressing mental health in the workplace,” Hadlock said.
They also coach executive leaders and managers on how to better emotionally connect with their employees.
Hadlock comes at ‘workplace anxiety’ from personal experience, having had his own struggles with mental health in the past. “And yet, I did not know how to deal with my feelings. So I was feeling overwhelmed, stressed,” he said. “Rather than addressing it, because of all that guilt and shame, I chose to ignore it.”
He hopes others can learn from his experience.
“This is an opportunity, I believe, for leaders to step up and lead from a place of compassion, understanding, vulnerability — like, ask your people,” he said. “I believe a lot of the stress and anxiousness is more from actually not feeling heard in the workplace.”
Hadlock believes the pandemic allowed managers to see their employees in a whole new way. “You would hear the kids in the background or you’d hear their pets. We got to see a little bit more of each other that we hadn’t noticed in the past, and I call that a huge win as it relates to mental health because now we’re starting to see that we can show just a little bit more of ourselves in the workplace,” he said.
He hopes this is the springboard for future change, urging managers to begin a conversation and then listen.
“When we can demonstrate genuine concern for our people, they feel that and that’s what builds trust. And when you build trust, that’s when people start to open up,” Hadlock said.
He believes this also increases productivity. “When your people feel heard, when they feel supported, I promise you, they’re going to show up better at work.”
“I really appreciate my boss and respect him … I couldn’t imagine leaving my job and it’s because of my boss,” Hurst said.
She said finding a solution for her family came down to effective communication. “Putting a calendar invite on his schedule and just saying ‘Hey, like this is how I’m feeling. How are you feeling?'” she said.
Whether someone is going back to the workplace full time, continuing to work remotely or navigating a hybrid approach, Hadlock said having those conversations is vital. “It’s about asking questions, open-ended questions that come from a place of genuine concern,” he said.
“Some of the things that I thought were just normal things to concede on blows my mind,” she said. “I was planning on having to come in and, on the days I work (at the office) pump, and not nurse my kids and now looking back, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I was willing to do that.’”
Hurst feels the compromise she and his boss found allows her to be a better mother and employee.
“It has been the best thing for me and my girls,” Hurst said.
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