Post-pandemic work strategies with Dr. Elizabeth lombardo: There are experiences all humans share in common: first steps, tactile sensations, the need for safety. But there are few, if any, in a lifetime that are shared by nearly all of humanity at the same time. That was until a year and half ago when a global pandemic swept the world off its complacent feet and into a shared state of turmoil, uncertainty, and loss.
Perhaps the most stressful disruption to our lives as a result of the pandemic is work. Every industry has been impacted, many quite negatively, and some permanently. Job loss, furloughs, small business closures, working from home with small children, saving lives day and night in overcrowded hospitals – everyone has had to adapt.
Now that much of the population is vaccinated, mask mandates are lifted, and businesses have reopened, we are asked to make drastic changes again. Adapting to a new coffee maker or computer can be hard enough, so it’s no surprise that many feel mentally and emotionally anxious about the prospect of returning to work as normal, despite the fact they did it for so many years.
So what are the real issues driving this anxiety concerning something that we believe we should be happy about? We have enlisted the help of Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo to guide you through the return-to-work process and help you to restructure your outlook so you can see this as an opportunity to modify your work and career mindset, and to ultimately reach a better place in your career and your life than you were at before the pandemic. With her ebullient persona, engaging smile, and advice that everyone can relate to, Dr. Lombardo is a fixture on America’s favorite morning, news, and health broadcasts, including Today, Fox, Dr. Oz, and CNN, in addition to her acclaimed TED Talk series.
Practice Makes Perfect
According to Dr. E, you’re out of practice! “People had a lot of practice interacting with others, so that was their norm. Then they got into a spot where it wasn’t their norm,” she says. Just like riding a bike, you have the skills, you’re just a little rusty. In addition, or perhaps more importantly, high stress levels due to anxiety and a focus on the negative will hold you back. “When we have high levels of stress already, we’re more likely to see what’s wrong,” Dr. E warns.
If you’re just getting back into the flow of daily work, take breaks when you need them, consult with HR about counseling or other available services, listen to your favorite music, do stretching or breathing exercises. It will all come back. Dr. E’s favorite analogy is a hot tub: one toe at a time until you become acclimatized. And if the steam gets too hot, get out of the water for a bit.
And remember, being around others is healthy. “Loneliness is as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Dr. E explains. Ask co-workers about their weekend or suggest having lunch together. Creating a more pleasant environment for others is rewarded with improved overall well-being for yourself and those around you.
What Do You Really Want?
There is nothing like a year of not working and collecting benefits to ponder the possibilities. Are you really happy with your career? Or maybe you already have the wheels in motion to make some drastic changes. “I think the pandemic caused a lot of people to take pause,” muses Dr. E. The realization for some that they don’t even like their job or their current industry is prompting many people to seek further education, certifications, or apply for business loans and follow their passion.
For those who do return to their former jobs or industry of experience, this is the opportunity to heighten the stakes and leverage bargaining power. “Workers are holding out for higher wages, because they’re smart, and they know that there are more jobs than there are people wanting to work,” Dr. E asserts.
Make Use of the Commute
We can all agree no one missed long commutes, sitting in traffic, or standing room only subway trains. And though some people now work remotely on a permanent basis, most will have to return to a commute, if they haven’t already. “It’s just a huge time suck,” confers Dr. E. “So what do you do? You have got to figure out how you can change your perspective. Because if you’re going to do it every single day being angry, frustrated, and annoyed, it’s only going to cause more stress in your life.”
So how do you replace seething frustration at the first traffic jam? Dr. E recommends using the commute time for something fun, constructive, or absorbing. For example, if you are thinking about learning a foreign language and haven’t found the time (even after 14 months at home), listen to language lessons and make this your designated class time. You can also listen to your favorite podcast, or try new ones on various subjects of interest. Comedy podcasts are great for passing the time, as are podcasts for film buffs, vintage music, love and relationships, aliens, pet care, career enhancement, you name it. If your hands are free, catch up on your personal (not work) emails or phone calls. Check in with friends. Use the time wisely and for personal gain and growth.
A Cup of Gratitude
“Find some of the benefits as opposed to focusing on what you don’t like,” advises Dr. E. Remind yourself that you are grateful your dining room table is no longer covered with papers, work supplies, and your laptop. Grateful to have a job when so many have lost theirs. Grateful to have human interaction again. Yes, there will always be stuff that isn’t so great, but use that time to brainstorm. “Addressing your own stress is going to help you change your perspective. Realize that it’s not all or nothing,” insists Dr. E.
Just because we are returning to in-person work and activities does not mean our anxiety about contracting COVID-19 has evaporated. In fact, people need to be more cautious and tactful than ever now that we are out of the lockdown bubble. Here, Dr. E offers a precise directive for how to convey these concerns to your employer.
“Realize that the purpose of your communication is not to change others’ opinions, but rather to ensure your own emotional and physical safety. If you have concerns about non-vaccinated co-workers, have a conversation with your manager or HR about how to ensure that either they wear masks or that you are protected from them. If you are not vaccinated and are dealing with co-workers’ stress about your decision, accept that everyone has their own opinions, and you don’t need to personalize them. What you can do, however, is to respect them. That would mean wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing when you are near them.”
Finally, Dr. E offers some final thoughts on optimizing your work environment and how to achieve the work-life balance you desire.
“When returning to work, this is really a great opportunity to reassess what are the vital ingredients for your success. That may include a hybrid schedule or different hours, or going out to lunch with a colleague each week. First, determine what you want and then communicate it to those people who need to know. If it is hybrid of opportunities, have a one-on-one conversation with your manager or HR to explain precisely what you would like and why you think it is best for you and the organization. If you want to continue working out, for example, schedule in your exercise time like any other meeting. This really is a great opportunity to make positive changes in your life.”