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Take a Slow Transition Back to the Office to Alleviate Mental Health Concerns

Vaccine rollouts and the lifting of pandemic-induced restrictions are encouraging many employers to bring their workers back into the office. But as much as we’ve all longed for a return to some semblance of normal, this seemingly positive transition is now adding to the stress most of us have endured for more than a year.

Enforced isolation and people’s fear of the coronavirus have wrought a myriad of mental health challenges, such as increased anxiety and depression. In fact, a June 2020 survey conducted by the CDC found that the number of people reporting anxiety symptoms tripled from 2019 to 2020, and depression symptoms quadrupled during the pandemic. Plus, 40% of United States adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. An April 2021 survey by HR software company Limeade found that 100% of formerly onsite employees were anxious about returning to the workplace, with COVID-19 exposure, less flexibility and commutes reported as high sources of stress.

This data suggests that switching back to a communal workspace could actually trigger an uptick in mental health issues and substance abuse among our nation’s workers. Considering the sharp rise in mental health symptoms in 2020, as well as the CDC reporting overdose deaths in the United States topped 87,000 in 2020, up from 70,630 in 2019 — the largest single-year percentage increase in 20 years — employers need to understand their employees’ health and well-being concerns. Now more than ever, employers should take steps to support their employees through a return-to-work transition.