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Back to work blues? Here is help


Editor’s Note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and advice in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Like millions of Americans, Ken Todd, a 53-year-old marketing executive in New York City, left the office when the pandemic took hold and moved into his home. Now he is preparing for the return trip, planning to take the metro back to his company workplace.

It’s time, President Joe Biden told the nation in his March 1 speech State of the Union Addressto “fill our major city centers” again, adding that people should feel safe returning to their offices.

Not everyone shares this sentiment, and the reasons are many.

Ken Todd

Todd isn’t resisting, but he admits he “approaches this with cautious optimism.” The former marathoner has long suffered from COVID after being infected in January 2021, before vaccines were available for his age group in New York. His energy He struggles with a long list of symptoms, including a balance problem that makes him seasick if he stares at a computer screen for too long.

Others bristle at the thought that they weren’t actually working from home and need constant supervision. Like a worker tweeted: “It’s not for anyone’s yuck, but why are so many people who are really excited about going back to the office so bothered by those of us who are working very well from home? I mean , I work clearly. But people are disturbs. What is that?”

says another: “Can journalists remove the expressions ‘return to work’ and ‘return to normal’ from their work?”, noting that people have been work and that “back to normal” is a terrible term to use.

Others say they will find it hard to let go of the work-life balance that was better when working from home, even with pets and children in Zoom meetings.

Clearly, returning to workplaces won’t be as ‘normal’ as it was before the pandemic, doctors and mental health experts have said Medscape Medical News. However, employers and workers can take steps to increase safety, reduce the risk of infection at work and reduce anxiety.

Return to work prospects

First, do a “bowel test,” suggests Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “When they ask you to come in, what’s your first instinctive response?” she asked. “Is that ‘Awesome!’ or not’ ?” Then, she said, try to figure out why your answer is what it is.

Dr. Susan Albers

Maybe that’s how you’re wired, at least partially. In general, she found, her introverted patients “loved being at home. Extroverts really struggled.”

But many workers, faced with the inevitable return to work, will likely have to make the most of it and try to feel some of Todd’s “cautious optimism.”

In a recent study, researchers surveyed more than 3,900 people who were working from home during the pandemic. They found that those facing the prospect of returning to their workplace soon, compared to those whose return was not immediate, were more optimistic about the infection risks of returning to their workplace and more pessimistic about the risks of working from home.

The researchers suggested that “motivated optimism” was at play. They defined it as people minimizing future risks to manage their anxiety.

Others, including Todd, try to avoid infection or re-infection. “I can’t afford to get sick again,” he said, after months of learning to manage his long list of symptoms. Along with the balance problem and overwhelming fatigue, he suffered from brain fog, which is now improving, and heat intolerance, making New York summers unbearable. He is participating in a post-COVID hospital-based recovery program and wants to keep moving forward.

Individual risk assessment

Before returning, workers should assess their medical situation, that of their household and their risk tolerance, said Leana Wen, MD, emergency physician and professor of public health at George Washington University, Washington, DC.

Dr Leana Wen

“If everyone in their home is fully immunized, boosted, and generally healthy, their risk of serious illness from coronavirus for them is extremely low. On the other hand, if they or anyone in their home East immunocompromisedolder people with chronic illnesses and already medically fragile, it’s a different decision,” she said.

Assessing your personal risk tolerance is also crucial, Wen said. “Many will say at this point that they are enjoying the return to pre-pandemic activity so much that the risk of contracting the coronavirus, especially if they are vaccinated and boosted, is outweighed by the benefits of normalcy.”

However, “there are others who are worried about long-term COVID and the potential of giving COVID to others,” she said. “That’s why people should determine what’s best for them given their medical situation and risk assessment.”

For those affected, especially if they return to an office where masks are not required, she advised to continue masking. One-way masking with a high-quality mask — N95, KN95, or KN94 — provides excellent protection, she said.

Keep in mind how much vaccinations help, Wen said. “Vaccinated and boosted people are three to five times less likely to be infected with the coronavirus than those who are not vaccinated.”

When it comes to safety, she said, “workplaces should let employees know what kinds of precautions they have in place. Some might not. In that case, you should ask so to be able to decide what additional precautions to take.”

Guidance for employers

Employers can turn to a variety of sources to help them keep employees and the workplace safe – and workers can also find this advice online.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has published general and industry-specific guidelines. “We have recommendations on withdrawal from work [of infected employees]testing, quarantine, and vaccine messaging,” said Tanisha Taylor, MD, MPH, chair of the ACOEM Return to Work Task Force.

Dr. Tanisha Taylor

The National Security Council (NSC) launched SAFER, Safe Actions for Employee Return, a national task force to help employers create safe post-pandemic workplaces. In May 2021, the NSC updated its SAFER framework with advice to employers on vaccination policies, ventilation, flexible working hours and other issues.

In surveys conducted between June and August 2021, with responses from 300 employers and 3,785 individuals, the NSC found the following:

  • Vaccination increased by 35% if required by employers.

  • Consumers prefer to visit companies where workers are vaccinated.

  • Employers who enforce vaccine requirements for all of their staff can achieve a level of “community immunity”.

NSC investigators also found that most workers did not want to return to work in person.

Relieve anxiety

Employers can allay concerns by informing workers of the precautions to take. Todd praises his company for “doing a good job preparing us” and for encouraging vaccinations so strongly that most of his co-workers are also vaccinated. Even so, Todd said, “I’ve already told my colleagues that I’ll be wearing an N95 mask in the office.”

Getting back to a routine, if possible, can help, experts said. Todd’s business will initially follow a hybrid schedule, keeping a few work-from-home days.

While certain activities in the office may be mandatory — a company-wide meeting, for example — workers can determine whether they have the ability, for example, to participate by phone from a separate room, Wen suggested.

Even though the company-wide meeting must be in person, workers can choose to skip the crowded cafeteria at lunch, she said. And “you don’t have to go to happy hour at a bar side by side with people,” she said. “It’s okay to say no, especially in optional situations.”

Some anxiety stems from the general uncertainty about what returning to “normal” will entail, said Chicago executive coach Cheryl Procter-Rogers. Lately, she hears this anxiety from customers. “One of them said to me, ‘How do I know the person across the board table is vaxxed?’ ”

Cheryl Procter Rogers

It’s one of many situations that workers will have to figure out how to handle, she said. “It’s concerning.”

Some anxiety stems from career or lifestyle issues, Procter-Rogers said, such as indecision about whether to return to work, especially if it means giving up some of the perks people enjoyed in retirement. House.

Some clients have told her they’ve grown accustomed to turning to their partner in the middle of the workday and suggesting a short walk break. “These opportunities have really deepened the relationship,” she said. “Some wonder if they want to give it up.”

Whatever the source of the anxiety, simple things like physical activity can help, Procter-Rogers said. “It’s also really important that people have someone to talk to,” she said, whether it’s a friend, spouse, coach or therapist. .

Asking for help works, as Todd discovered. He joined a grassroots education, research and advocacy group for information and support. He was so grateful for the help they gave him that he asked how he could give back.

“They said, ‘The best thing you can do is tell your story. “So he does. “It helps my mental health and it helps my optimism,” Todd said.

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