We explore the phenomenon of re-opening anxiety and explain how charities can support their staff
On 19 July 2021, COVID-19 restrictions in England will be lifted and we will be left to navigate advice to ‘be cautious’ without guidance in law. Should we leave masks at home and head back to the office or hunker down as cases rise?
For many in the charity sector providing frontline services, there has been no option but to be present at work throughout the pandemic. From hospices with in-patient units fighting to keep out the virus to food banks meeting the growing numbers of families going hungry.
Everyone has had different experiences of COVID-19 and while many may be thrilled at the prospect of re-opening, others will be anxious.
Re-opening anxiety is anxiety triggered by the end of COVID-19-related restrictions such as mask-wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and limiting social contact.
Every charity and every member of staff will have different issues to work out. Charities will need to find ways to support their communities who are experiencing the effects of re-opening anxiety.
80% of people who responded to Blackbaud’s ‘Future of Work’ survey said they would like the option of working from home more, once offices re-open.
Charities are now entering the unfamiliar world of hybrid workplaces and asynchronous working as they adapt to post-pandemic worklife. For some charity workers going back to the office for the first time in two years, even for just one day a week, could trigger re-opening anxiety.
And these same anxieties will also be affecting people’s decisions about whether to use charity services in person, stick with digital options, or worse, opt out of support completely.
There is also evidence to show that re-opening is layering new anxiety onto pre-existing anxiety. Office for National Statistics figures show, for example, that anxiety levels have been consistently higher through the pandemic. Taking re-opening anxiety into account will be essential to any transition into a new, post-pandemic normal.
Every staff member will have different needs and anxieties. Adopting a flexible approach with a range of options will help to meet people where they are. Flexibility also gives staff and charities the opportunity to ‘try on’ different ways of working to find the best options.
You don’t have to flick a switch from old arrangements to new ones. A gradual transition may be less jarring for everyone.
Create or highlight spaces where people can share their feelings about re-opening. These spaces are also an opportunity to listen to concerns and ideas.
In a remote or changing work environment good internal comms are a vital tool for reducing uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it. Communicate early and often about planned changes and how staff will be supported through them.
Give staff time to plan for required in-person meetings or events by providing plenty of information well in advance.
Routine can help us speed up the process of becoming familiar with new ways of working. Encouraging staff to think about the type of work that they want to do when they are together and when they are working remotely may help provide structure to the week.
Reflecting on change can help to process it. Techniques like journaling or mindfulness encourage recognition and acceptance of feelings about change.
Setting clear organisational priorities for the final two quarters of the year and reducing workloads accordingly will help create space for this transitional period and new ideas for the future.
The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us. Constant change depletes energy levels – we need to rest. As Dana Kohova Segal, Fundraising Strategist, tweeted:
There isn't a single person I am working with right now who isn't overstreched, exhausted, worn out & anxious.— Dana Kohava Segal (she/they) (@danaksegal) July 8, 2021
When it's not acknowledged, all it's doing is creating more tension, communication breakdowns & expectation management problems.
We need a big, collective rest.
Making time for staff to rest as they adjust to a new way of working will help to manage anxiety and lead to better productivity in the long term.