‘Faced with situations they didn’t have to encounter before’: How to prepare to return to work

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This Thursday, May 7, 2020, photo, shows Interior Designer Stephanie Jones at the design firm Bergmeyer putting up a safe distancing reminder indicating one way foot traffic to a cubicle at the firms offices in Boston. When workers around the world eventually return to their desks, they’ll find myriad adjustments by their companies to reflect the post-pandemic “new normal” way of life, executives and experts say. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

(ABC4) – With vaccine eligibility soon opening up to all adults in Utah, many employees may be getting ready to head back to the office.

(Getty Images)

That may involve returning to a physical workspace after teleworking or re-entering the workforce following a pandemic layoff or needing to be home with children to help them navigate virtual schooling.

After about a year into the pandemic, these changes can present a big transition for some who have become accustomed to being at home.

Employees from the Department of Workforce Services spoke to ABC4 about tips and resources to both mentally prepare to re-enter the workforce, as well as to start up the job search.

Mental Preparedness

Dorothy Hall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. For those who don’t have access to mental health resources through their insurance, and may need help preparing for all the changes related to returning to work, there are many online resources, she says.

“There are a ton of resources on the internet that are for folks who are experiencing turmoil and transition that don’t necessarily mean that they have a mental health issue that they need to have resolved. They just get a sense that they’re not alone in the world and that what they’re experiencing isn’t that different from someone else,” she states.

These resources can help in reducing anxiety or emotional response to what we’re faced with, Hall explains. She says that for those who are transitioning back into the workforce, the world they are coming back to is different.

“They may or may not be going back to their same employer, and so not only is it acclimating back to the reality of work, but also to potentially a different situation. And the world is different right now, so even when they go back, they’re going to be faced with situations they didn’t have to encounter before, especially related to masks and safety…,” she states.

Hall says people can find videos and apps focused on mental health, well-being, and just taking care of themselves.

“There are a lot of techniques like mindfulness that help people if they’re willing to learn them- regulate and center themselves so they can face whatever they’re having to face…,” she says.

For those who are transitioning back to a physical workplace after teleworking during the pandemic, the change could be fear-inducing. For example, many people have gotten used to spending more time with family and pets without the need to commute.

Hall says her children are grown, but her pets have gotten used to her working from home for a year and worries how they will react to her going into work.

She says people can take steps before returning that will help them ease into that transition.

“I think one of the ways that people can be proactive is to start considering the act of going back to work, so dressing appropriately, not wearing your jammies,” she states. “Really starting the process. If they’re not going back to work on Monday, start acting as though you are attending and going to work. So get dressed, bathe, do all those things so that you can start getting in the swing of things.”

Hall acknowledges that there’s another fear that people could be struggling with: returning to work while the pandemic is still happening.

(Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

“I know a lot of my colleagues are struggling with still some fear and uncertainty related to the mask mandate being removed. Right now if you’re going into the office, they’re checking your temperature,” she says of her workplace. “It feels very uncertain, and so the best thing that people can do related to that is talk to other people.”

Talking to colleagues and expressing fears out loud is important, she says.

“Really have conversations with people about what you’re feeling because when you keep that all in, you’re the only one that’s really processing that, and so, it can be a skewed perspective. But if you have conversations with your peers who are probably feeling the same way, you can get other people’s perspective and maybe begin to develop a perspective where you’re ready to go back to work.”

Hall says she thinks a lot of people are ready to go back to work.

“We have this sense that maybe people aren’t, but I think there are a lot of people who are ready to re-engage, and sometimes it’s just a matter of having those conversations- to express your thoughts and feelings around what you might be unsure about…,” she explains.

She says that talking to supervisors, peers, and family and friends can help people prepare themselves for returning.

“It’s a great idea for people to talk to their supervisor about what they’re feeling or what to expect, what has changed, and what do I need to expect when I come back to work? There’s benefit to that, and I certainly encourage that,” she says. “But there’s also benefit to talking to people at a peer level, where you feel like maybe you can express yourself in a different way and get feedback from them regarding what they’re thinking as well.”

With returning to work comes the need to commute again, and those who need it can take this time to mentally prepare, Hall says. She says people can practice mindfulness techniques when pulling into the parking lot and take a minute to ground themselves before going inside.

For those who need it, she recommends what she calls the take five breathing technique:

Exhale

Breathe in through your nose to the count of 5

Hold your breath for the count of 5

Exhale through your mouth creating sound to the count of 5 

Repeat up to 5 times as needed

And what can employers do to help employees returning to the office after a long stretch of teleworking? Hall says allowing people to have conversation is big.

“I think that the most important step to this is really acknowledging that people are going to come in and they’re going to have a bit of anxiousness because the reason why we’re at home in the first place is because of the pandemic, so allowing people to have some conversation, having some expectations of what we’ll be doing at work, but also allowing our staff to really engage in conversations with people they haven’t laid eyes on in a while.

She says giving people time to get centered and settled is also important.

“I think that at least the first week, the productivity likely will go down because they’re trying to get to a point where they’re comfortable and they’ve checked in with people that they haven’t been able to check in with.”

She says that supervisors can communicate clear expectations to help employees.

“Communicating what’s going to be different when people start coming to work, really communicating that, being transparent with that,” she says. “Letting them know what will be still in place and what won’t be and then honoring people’s right to continue to still wear masks if they feel like they need to. And putting out the message that that’s okay so that other staff are not judging people based on choices.”

On the other hand, many people are in the process of searching for a job.

Resources for finding a job

According to Troy Lamb, Employment and Financial Counselor at the Department of Workforce Services, there are many resources available for those searching for a job.

Most of those resources, he says, can be found at jobs.utah.gov. Some of these resources include virtual workshops and virtual job fairs. There is one coming up on April 1st where job seekers can network with employers.

Lamb says there are three new virtual workshops available: Finding a Job you Love, Choosing a Career, and Transferrable Skills. Transferrable Skills “is a great workshop to help you… understand how you can transition from your previous job that you’ve done in the past or maybe you’re currently thinking about changing careers- how do you do that?” he says.

According to Lamb, there are currently many jobs available in Utah.

“I would say that on our website, we have over 20,000 job postings statewide and on our job fair that we’ve had every month the last few months, we’ve had around 100 employers that are participating in that job fair. So there are so many great jobs everywhere, so whether it’s in healthcare, in IT, in construction, manufacturing, and retail, there’re jobs in a lot of different markets and industries that are available currently, so we have a lot more jobs than we have people looking for jobs.”

In terms of building a resume, Lamb says the website has lots of tips and resources, including a guidebook with examples of what to put and what to leave out of a resume. The site also has a free resume builder program available to those who register with a site.

Lamb also encourages people to come into one of the state’s 29 local offices to meet with an employment counselor. They can also make an appointment for a virtual meeting.

“When you come in to meet with an employment counselor, they’ll ask you your background and the types of jobs you’ve had, what type of skills you enjoy using in your job, and some goals you might have as far as employment whether it’s short-term or long-term goals,” he says.

They will also ask about your job search and any networking efforts. They will review your portfolio, resume, and references, Lamb adds.

His advice for those currently searching for work?

Generic hands on laptop computer job search-159532.jpg39264542

“I would just say have courage. Just know that there’s a lot of support out there. There’re a lot of programs and funding that’s here to help you with your job search. If you’re considering coming back into the job force, maybe you want to change careers and go a different direction, and if right now’s the right time to do that, we have our Workforce Innovation and Opportunity training fund,” he says.

The fund comes is a part of the Workforce innovation and Opportunity Act, Lamb explains.

“… we have a training fund that you could potentially qualify for that we can help you continue your education or help you get a license, degree or certification in something that you enjoy doing for work.”

Those who are interested can apply on jobs.utah.gov and meet with a training counselor to discuss eligibility. Those who’ve been laid off will qualify, Lamb says.

Those searching for work can also visit careeronestop.org and mynextmove.org.

Hall provided the following hotlines for those who may need mental health support:

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – 24 hours/7 days a week

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255) – 24 hours/7 days a week

Utah (Huntsman Mental health Institute) Warmline:  1-833-SPEAKUT (773-2588) – 8am to 11pm/7 days a week

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