Returning to the Workplace: Are You Ready?

Since the start of 2021, I have considered what returning to the work environment would mean for many? What efforts would be put into place by workplace leadership to support the return-to-work process? When would those initiatives be rolled out? If they have not done so already, it is important for workplace leadership to begin the process. Why?

Over the past year, citizens have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, and televised racial oppression.

Over the past year, citizens have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, and televised racial oppression. These multiple forms of tragedy may be referred to as cumulative and collective trauma. The multi-layer effects have included loss of life, loss of jobs and/or finances, loss of intentions/hopes, impact on identity, race-based distress, and more. Both work and personal environments have experienced numerous shifts that have affected various dimensions of the individual self (e.g., social, spiritual, emotional, mental, biological, physical). The impact on these dimensions, unaddressed, can affect work performance and result in issues of burnout, vicarious trauma, and inefficient work performance.

After almost two years of regulations including social distancing, mask wearing, and teleworking for many, employees will be expected to fully transition to the work environment. Most likely, employees will seek guidance from workplace leadership pertaining to this transition to ease their anticipatory grief and workplace distress. Unfortunately, many leadership personnel are ill-equipped to respond to the mental distress experienced by employees as this is understandably not an expectation for their role or responsibilities. More so, employees would be referred to individualized methods of coping such as obtaining mental or behavioral health services through their primary care insurance, or accessing Employee Assistance Program benefits. Although these services are critically beneficial, employees may be apprehensive about accessing such resources due to privacy concerns, mental health stigmatization, or financial challenges.

Workplace leadership must also consider that several employees may choose not to return ...

Workplace leadership must also consider that several employees may choose not to return, resulting in significant impact on various departments. Factors that may influence an employee’s return-to-work decision include:

  • Obtained other employment more conducive to personal needs

  • Limited feeling of safety in the workplace

  • Health-related life circumstances including pregnancy, chronic illness, or caregiving of vulnerable persons

These factors may also result in requests for flexible work schedules and continued teleworking opportunities. In such cases, workplace leadership would need to determine how to assess the impact on various departments due to the loss of human capital.

However, considering the forms of collective tragedies, losses, and employee return-to-work decisions, this article highlights the importance of a workplace reintegration initiative. Such an initiative should be a proactive form of support developed to address the psychosocial and work-culture needs for an employee to reach a sense of self-actualization to appropriately function in a post-COVID-19 work environment.

A few workplace reintegration recommendations include:

  1. Disseminating communications from workplace leadership acknowledging the effects of multiple pandemics on the workforce, including grief and loss, coping with multiple shifts in work and personal environments, in addition to return-to-work perceptions.

  2. Developing and implementing forms of communication between workplace leadership and employees to gain insight about areas of hope, areas of concern, and unique target areas to address pertaining to the return-to-work process.

  3. Providing timely and accurate education on topics including, workplace health and safety procedures pertaining to COVID-19, procedures in response to when an employee may be diagnosed. This may include developing digital tools such as Frequently Asked Questions or a chat component to the workplace website specifically focusing on return-to-work education.

  4. Informing employees about a coordinated system of care, whether they seek to process as individuals or in a communal sense. Furthermore, providing insight about how to navigate these systems in a safe and private manner.

  5. Integrating unique components to the system of care directly targeting grief, loss, and return-to-work issues. This can include virtual workshops about grief, loss, and daily coping skills; as well as virtual consultations targeting the return-to-work experience.

Overall, it is critical to implement processes that destigmatize concerns about returning to work and provide both individual and collective forms of support. For consultation in developing a return-to-work plan, please visit

Written by Dr. Veronica L. Hardy, LCSW