Returning to the workplace

Returning to the workplace


With the state of emergency now lifted across Japan, we are all beginning to navigate a new world with COVID-19. The three Cs (avoid Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close Contact) require us to continue to make changes in our work & school practices, social interactions with others, where we can travel, and family lives.

As we re-enter society and the workplace, we are constantly reminded that life has not returned to normal: people are wearing masks; there are plastic dividers in shops & at the office, A and B team shifts. While many of us are relieved the restrictions have been lifted, we are all still in uncharted territory. Just as we felt anxious moving into a state of social distancing, adjusting to this new way of living is equally stressful.

Some of us will be fearful about contracting the virus, or anxious for family members or friends. For many with friends or family overseas, you may have suffered bereavements during this time, often without the chance to say goodbye or attend funerals, or have been cut off from contact with family or children. Others will be worried about their job security, their business, or have financial concerns. Others may be concerned about returning to the workplace (with the additional stress of using public transport for commuting). Some employees are working longer or more irregular hours, and many are combining work with home-schooling and other family responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance.

We have been dealing with an elevated stress response for at least two months as we adapted to all the changes and uncertainties placed upon us, and there is more adjusting ahead. Research from previous disasters and psychological first aid tell us we have all experienced a traumatic stress response. Various surveys from around the world have examined the impact of the lockdowns and social distancing, reporting increased levels of fatigue; musculoskeletal conditions; poor work life balance; reduced exercise; increased alcohol consumption; and increases in abuse, divorce and marital conflict. Many employees reported feeling reduced motivation; loss of purpose; anxiety and isolation. Taking care of ourselves mentally and physically over the coming weeks and months will be more important than ever to avoid burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

What does this look like in the workplace? Starting conversations about the stress and anxiety we are all experiencing and ways to cope. This helps to normalize the strong feelings we are all experiencing and create a culture where we feel safe to discuss these issues.  A study by the American Psychological Association in 2019 found only 50% of workers feel comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace. Age made a difference: millennials being twice as likely to feel comfortable at 62% compared to only 32% of Baby Boomers. Here in Japan, there is even greater reluctance to discuss these issues.

We have listed a few tips to help you with your adjustments.

For managers & HR

  • Offer workshops and seminars on stress, coping and mental health topics
  • Regular check-ins and communication with your staff/team
  • Rebuild your workplace morale
  • Role modelling
  • Review & adjust workloads
  • Offer education and learning opportunities
  • Know the mental health signs to look for & how to support someone.

For all of us

  • Know your stress triggers and how to manage stress levels.
  • Develop a toolbox of stress reductions techniques, meditation, mindfulness activities, yoga etc.
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Monitor your sleeping habits
  • Monitor your alcohol intake
  • Ensure you have a healthy work life balance
  • Stay connected with friends, colleagues, family
  • Seek support for your own mental health if you need it
  • Notice changes in others and reach out to them
  • Talk to your HR teams about well-being and mental health support
  • Prioritize self-care activities
  • Take regular rest breaks and continue to take annual leave

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