Published on

Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-IbarraReturning to work amidst COVID-19

by Michele Majul-Ibarra

As provinces across Canada loosen restrictions, employers are considering returning their employees into the workplace and the anticipated return appears to trigger some anxiety among workers. COVID-19 is alive and well in Canada and workers are rightly asking how their return to the workplace will look and what working arrangements will be like in the long term.

The thought of having to return to what it used to be the norm feels equally unsettling after months of being cooped up at home. “Re-entry anxiety” was the term that psychologists have come up with to describe this.

Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, says there are two distinct types of re-entry anxiety. “Some people are anxious because they have a ‘lurking fear’ of catching or spreading COVID-19,” she says, “while others have fallen out of practice socializing and are finding it difficult to resume.”

With this in mind, a lot of organizations have been working to prepare for the safe return of their workforce. The Conference Board of Canada recently surveyed employers across the country regarding how they plan to bring back employees to physical workplaces, and the measures they are putting in place. The survey revealed that only eight per cent of organizations are fully prepared to reopen. In addition, 28 per cent of the respondents stated that they already have a plan in place in the event of a second wave outbreak. Sixty-two per cent reported that they are in the process of developing a plan.

Since mid-March, many employees have also shifted to a work-from-home model. With the ease in restrictions, organizations have to consider whether they will require these employees back in the workplace. The Conference Board of Canada found that despite the small portion of employers who are fully prepared to reopen, only forty per cent want their employees who work remotely to return to their office in some capacity. While most employees will want to require their employees to return, the survey also reported a shift in practice. When the organizations were asked about their approach to remote work, many of them indicated a shift to remote work. When the lockdown was first established, many people felt the impact of having to isolate 24/7 for many months. So, it is not a surprise that organizations may shift to remote work on a long-term basis.

With this new reality of having to re-enter ourselves to society, it is normal to feel unsure and uneasy. This is why experts recommend baby steps when it comes to confronting our fear. This is where phased in reopening of provinces have been very helpful. Clear rules and expectations are constantly being communicated to ensure everyone is following the same protocol to continue the mitigation of spread or infection. Slow transition is not a bad thing either. You don’t just go from being isolated in your home straight to commuting on a bus to work or straight to gathering at full capacity in a friend’s house. Experts advise that overcoming fear should start with slow exposure, whether it entails walking in the park alone or visiting someone and chatting with them by their window. We all have to start going back to our lives at some point. While it can be challenging for many different reasons, we all have to remember to respect public health rules and reminders for our own safety and the safety of others. Seeking mental health support when needed is also a good idea if anxiety is considered to be a struggle.



This article is intended for information purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice.

Michele Majul-Ibarra, IPMA-ACP holds an Advanced Certified HR Professional Designation with the International Personnel Management Association. E-mail her at

Have a comment on this article? Send us your feedback