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What to Look Out for and Strategies to Ensure a Smooth Transition

Can you believe we’re finally having this discussion? A while back we wrote about the challenges of moving to an agile work environment and how to strengthen culture in hybrid environments. Now, we’re looking at how to support employee mental health during the transition back to the office. As organizations in the public and private sectors move towards a sense of normalcy, leadership is grappling with how to transition employees back to the office after a long period of remote work. While the return to the office may be exciting for some, for others, the ongoing changes and adjustments may be a source of anxiety, stress, or even fear. It is crucial that companies prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of their employees during this transition period.

In this article, we will explain the ways the return to office mandates may negatively impact employees, as well as explore effective strategies for employers to use to support their team’s mental health while ensuring a smooth transition as they return to the traditional workplace.

Read more: The Importance of Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace

How do the return to office mandates negatively impact employees?

The notion of returning to the office can have a variety of negative impacts for some employees. When we look at mental health, often a result of the changes in routine, social dynamics, and environmental factors associated with transitioning from remote work to the office can lead to stress and anxiety, among other things. Here are some ways in which the return to the office can affect employees negatively:

Stress and anxiety

It’s no surprise that anxiety can arise from the uncertainty of a new or changed work environment and the potential health risks, that come along with that. This is especially true if the pandemic is still a concern for those who are vulnerable or are in close contact with a friend or family member who is vulnerable.

Some employees may experience social anxiety as they re-engage in face-to-face interactions after an extended period of remote work. This can be especially challenging for those who have grown accustomed to the isolation of remote work.

The logistics of commuting to the office, especially in crowded urban areas, can also be a significant stressor. Coupled with additional costs associated with commuting to work, long commute times can impact sleep patterns, increase daily stress, and reduce time for leisure and self-care. Additionally, employees may find themselves stressing over safety protocols, new office politics, workplace adjustments, and before and after school care for children.

Family and caregiving challenges

For employees with caregiving responsibilities, RTO can create new challenges in coordinating care for dependents, such as children or elderly family members. This can lead to increased stress, costly arrangements, and difficulty balancing work and personal life.


Transitioning back to the office can lead to an increased workload and demands on employees. After adapting to a remote work schedule, the return to a more structured in-office workday can contribute to burnout, as employees may struggle to manage the sudden change.

Loss of flexibility

People have been enjoying the perks of remote work since we went into our first lockdown. From flexible arrangements, the ability to do a load of laundry whenever we need to, keeping our pets company, and wandering to the fridge where we know all our favourite stuff is, it’s safe to say employees are not in a rush to sit in traffic to get to the office. Individuals who are mandated to head back to the traditional office may feel a loss of control and a diminished work-life balance as they return to a rigid in-office schedule.

Mental health stigma

The stigma surrounding mental health issues may persist in some workplace cultures, making it difficult for employees to discuss their struggles openly or seek help. This can compound stress and negatively impact an already delicate mental state.

Physical health

As we know, physical and mental health are both huge components that make up a person’s overall wellbeing. Transitioning back to the traditional office can lead to negative effects on an individual’s physical health. During remote work, people may have become accustomed to healthier habits during remote work, such as more time for exercise, better eating habits, and reduced exposure to office-related health risks. Being stuck at their desk for extended periods of time may enable them to fall back into old habits, and commute can take away precious time they once had for physical activity before or after work hours.

Lack of autonomy

For the most part, the remote workforce has been in control of their schedules, giving them autonomy over how they spend their time, when they get their work done, and what they do in between when they would otherwise be commuting to the workplace. Returning to the office can mean less autonomy in managing one’s work environment, and employees may be resentful over the lack of comfort and control they have over their workspaces.


For some, the office environment can be overstimulating. And while in the past, people may have been able to manage by putting on their headphones or spending a power-hour in a meeting room, it may be more challenging to adjust to the commotion after being in a comfortable environment for so long. The constant noise, interruptions, and social interactions can lead to sensory overload and result in distraction and loss of productivity.

It’s important for employers to recognize and address these potential challenges when planning the return to the office. Supporting employee mental health and wellbeing during this transition is essential to ensure a smooth and healthy adjustment.

These areas of concern can lead to troubling workplace environments and frustrated, hopeless employees. As a result, conflict can arise. If your organization is facing conflict during a difficult transition back into the traditional workplace, it may be time to consult a third-party professional.

Discover our Mediation and Investigation services to better understand how we can help you reach conflict resolution in your workplace.

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Strategies to support employee mental health during RTO

Regular and open communication

Step number one in supporting employee mental health during times of change is to create an environment that supports and encourages open communication. Employers should provide a safe space for employees to express concerns, fears, and anxieties related to the return-to-office mandates. Encourage managers to hold regular check-ins with their teams, allowing employees to voice any apprehensions they may have. By genuinely listening and responding empathetically, employers can create an atmosphere of understanding and trust.

Read more: How to Establish Trust in the Workplace

Organizations should also remain transparent about their plans for the return to the office, including timelines, safety protocols, and any changes to the workplace. Regular updates can help to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty, offer clarity so people can plan accordingly, and presents an opportunity for employees to ask questions and provide feedback.

Show compassion and understanding

Change is hard, especially when people are told to disrupt their new normal. As a leader, be compassionate and understand the varied emotions your team may be going through during this process. Take some time to recognize their challenges and discuss specific strategies that will help them experience a smooth transition. The process should be confidential whenever possible, unless there is information that can benefit the whole team. But be mindful and ensure no diagnosis about a person’s state of mental health is disclosed publicly.

Normalize conversations about mental health in the workplace

Breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health requires open dialogue and normalization of these conversations within the workplace environment while being mindful of confidentiality for specific examples or cases. Encourage leadership to share what they may be going through (if they feel comfortable doing so) while returning to the office to try and inspire others to seek support when needed without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Read more: Benefits of Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Offer flexibility

Recognize that every employee’s situation is unique and that by being flexible, you can contribute significantly to their wellbeing during this transition.

While some employees may be eager to finally return to the office, others may be hesitant or have personal circumstances that make it difficult to return full-time. Consider slowly easing into the transition by introducing hybrid models that allow employees to split their time between working from home and coming into the office. This flexibility not only accommodates individual needs but also demonstrates a commitment towards work-life balance.

Prioritize physical safety measures

Prioritizing physical safety measures will undoubtedly alleviate employee stress about returning to the office amid lingering public health concerns. Employers should implement hygiene protocols, such as enhancing cleaning and sanitation protocols, offering personal protective equipment (PPE), approving remote work for employees feeling under the weather, and appropriate social distancing measures within the workspace. Clear communication regarding these safety measures reassures employees of their wellbeing while at work.

Explore wellness programs and resources

Employers can play a pivotal role in promoting wellness by providing access to various resources and programs designed specifically for enhancing mental health. Offer workshops or training sessions on stress management techniques, resilience-building practices, mindfulness exercises, or meditation sessions. Collaborate with mental health professionals to provide counselling services or employee assistance programs, ensuring employees have the support they need during this transition.

Foster social connections

Working remotely for an extended period may have left many employees feeling isolated and disconnected from their colleagues. As employees return to the office, it is essential to foster social connections within teams through team-building activities, casual get-togethers, or collaborative projects. By creating opportunities for social interactions, companies can help to promote a sense of community and belonging while building relationships and boosting morale.

Encourage work-life balance

The return-to-office mandates should not disrupt the delicate balance between work and personal life that individuals may have achieved during remote work. Employers must encourage employees to maintain their boundaries by promoting reasonable working hours and discouraging excessive overtime. Team leaders should lead by example in prioritizing self-care and modelling healthy work-life integration.

Empower managers with mental health training

Managers play a crucial role in supporting employee mental health. Providing them with training on recognizing signs of distress, fostering psychological safety, and offering appropriate support will equip them to address mental health concerns effectively. By investing in manager training programs, employers demonstrate their commitment to creating a supportive workplace culture.

Recognize employee contributions

Acknowledging employee contributions and achievements is vital for boosting morale and maintaining motivation during challenging times like returning to the office after a pandemic-induced disruption. Recognition programs that celebrate accomplishments or milestones can significantly impact employee happiness and overall wellbeing while delivering a sense of purpose and fulfillment in one’s work.

Lead by example

Finally, it is important for company leaders to lead by example during their return to office. Leaders should prioritize their own mental health and wellbeing, communicate openly and transparently, and model healthy behaviours such as taking breaks and disconnecting from work. By leading by example, company leaders can help to create a positive and supportive workplace culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing.


Employers hold a significant responsibility in ensuring the smooth transition of their employees back into the office environment while safeguarding their mental health and wellbeing. By adopting these strategies, organizations can create a supportive atmosphere that promotes overall employee happiness and productivity and contributes to a more resilient workforce.

If your organization is experiencing roadblocks in finding effective ways to manage workplace conflict during the return-to-office transition and needs professional investigation or mediation services, consulting with a neutral third party will help to resolve distracting, challenging situations and empower all participants involved to settle on an agreeable solution that propels your organization forward.

At Global Mindful Solutions, we have established processes that aim to provide insightful, comprehensive solutions with a compassionate and unbiased approach. This allows everyone involved to focus on getting back to work and continue making a positive contribution to their organization while leading a fulfilling role in their careers.

Contact Global Mindful Solutions to get started with neutral, knowledgeable, and effective mediation, facilitation, and restoration services.


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