How to ace 5 post-lockdown work challenges

Are you starting a new job or motivation gone missing? Elaine Carnegie, founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy Being Works, has definitely got this

work challenges

Are you starting a new job or motivation gone missing? Elaine Carnegie, founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy Being Works, has definitely got this

Hands up if you’re feeling a bit weird about the idea of new work challenges and life returning to some kind of normality? You’d be forgiven for a lack of enthusiasm. While some of us can’t wait to be around colleagues again, many more have found a year living with the impact of a health pandemic has left us feeling a bit ‘meh’ about everything. According to the New York Times that feeling of stagnation and emptiness as we muddle through our days is called ‘languishing’, and we can relate.

It could be due, at least in part, to the disengagement we feel after months of working from home. According to research by Microsoft, Gen-Zers reported difficulties feeling engaged or excited about work because of this.

Whatever the case, if you’re heading back into the workplace – or entering it for the first time – you need to get yourself in the right headspace to cope with the rush of feelings this may well entail. Says Elaine Carnegie, founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy Being Works. “Re-entry anxiety is a thing! It’s the fear of being unable to adapt to previously established routines. So it’s OK to feel everything you are feeling right now”. Here is Elaine’s advice for getting through the first few weird weeks.

work challenges

Being Works' founder, Elaine Carnegie

1. If you were onboarded virtually

Being recruited during lockdown makes facing your colleagues IRL a unique challenge. “First-day nerves will have been postponed and in some ways completely heightened,” says Carnegie. While you may have been feeling like an ‘outsider’ because you haven’t met your colleagues face to face, don’t assume that everyone else has maintained solid connections throughout the pandemic. “Many workplaces will be putting plans in place to support those onboarded virtually. Recognise what you need to feel more safe and secure and ask for it. Be honest with your manager and reach out for help if you need to and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the workplace culture,” says Carnegie.

2. After having a baby in lockdown

Many have found bringing a new baby into the world during the pandemic incredibly challenging, even traumatic, which may make the return to work particularly hard. “A loss of confidence post-maternity leave is common anyway, so factor in the pandemic and you may find your confidence is very low to start with. Manage your expectations with self-compassion, taking the time to reignite your connection with your colleagues and role,” says Carnegie. Practical aspects like childcare and separation anxiety may prove disruptive as you get used to the new reality, so make sure you are open with your employer as you navigate your return to work. And find out if a hybrid working pattern might be doable.

3. If you've lost your motivation

That disengagement you feel is hardly surprising. “Forging relationships, building rapport and navigating social cues isn’t easy to do through a screen,” says Carnegie, while a lack of goals or incentives may have left you feeling uninterested in the projects that used to fire you up. “Accept that this current state won’t last - it just needs a little nudge in the right direction by reconnecting with colleagues that bring out the best in you”. One thing that really boosts motivation is dopamine, which requires enough sleep, a good diet (watch sugar levels) and managing your stress through meditation and deep breathing. ”Instead of going into denial, identify with how you’re really feeling, surround yourself with people that motivate you and celebrate the small wins together,” says Carnegie.

4. If your confidence is shot

More than half Gen Z say they now feel less confident in their own skin, a survey by Skin Proud has revealed. Staring at ourselves on Zoom for hours each day has probably not helped. On top of this comes a loss of confidence in our ability to do our jobs, due to all those months without the usual markers of success, such as validation from clients, boosting chats with line managers and thank-you drinks with the boss. “Acknowledge how you are feeling and re-connect with your strengths, listing your achievements if need be, so you stop focusing on your weaknesses,” says Carnegie. Get support professionally and personally by building your network. “Ask if there is a mentorship programme in your company,” she suggests.

5. If you've got a bout of social anxiety

“Easing of restrictions will be overwhelming for many of us and this is so normal. We’ve been through a collective trauma over the past year so it’s important to acknowledge this and take things slowly. Our resolve and resilience will definitely be depleted,” says Carnegie. Many have found the slower pace of life during lockdown easier so it’s natural to feel apprehensive and anxious about the future and life getting too fast again. “Take these changes at your own pace, building up to where you feel comfortable. And don’t judge yourself during or after you meeting up with others, nor compare yourself to them. It’s very likely they will be feeling a lot too, even if they don’t show it. We’ll all be trying to overcome different social anxieties. Just remember this feeling won’t last forever."

Good luck. You'll be ace!

* Elaine Carnegie is the founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy Being Works

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

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