Return to Office Anxiety: Coping Tips From TikTok's Millennial HR

Anxious over the cost and the threat of getting sick if she commutes back to the office, bank operations officer Angel is negotiating with her boss to work longer hours at no extra cost to the company as long as she is allowed to stay in her work from home cocoon.

It's a worried feeling shared by many who have gotten used to remote work. Angel, for one, would spend thousands of pesos on Grab fare to shuttle between her home in Meycauayan, Bulacan to Ortigas Center in Pasig, four hours per day total.

When she gets home, she worries over bringing the virus to their living room and get her senior citizen parents sick. Never mind the free meals and overtime pay.

"Pumapasok na agad sa utak ko 'yung san ko kukunin 'yung pera na extra pampamasahe," the breadwinner told reportr.

"Siguro kahit travel allowance man lang para kahit medyo mahal ang Grab, safe pa rin kami. O kaya sila ang mag-organize ng carpools para sa lahat kasi hirap po humanap."

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Such anxiety over building new routines under the new normal, when remote work has sufficed for two years, can lead to low productivity and should be addressed by both employees and employers, said human resources manager Tessa Mercado, whose TikTok account has 1.2 million likes and 158,000 followers.

What causes the anxiety?

A person can feel anxious about leaving their comfort zones because they are uprooting themselves from their safe space, Mercado told reportr. Adjusting to the new normal could take time as they relearn old routines while integrating the gains of flexible work .

Adults need about 30 to 45 days to ease back to the old set-up at work because it means relearning habits or forming a new behavior, psychologist Camille Garcia told CNN Philippines. 

"They will change their lifestyle again and relearn how to socialize in a face-to-face manner and we see that this has provided a lot of anxiety for different kinds of people," sociologist Ash Presto told CNN Philipppines.

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Anxiety could also stem from realizations over the past two years that employees could effectively do their job at home, said Mercado. Some employees could havealso discovered they work more productively at home, where they're alone or in their safe space.

The thought of alloting hours to commute is also a crippling feeling, when hours spent in line at the MRT could have been spent doing household chores, she said.

"Nare-realize natin nakakain oras natin sa commute pa lang... Na-realize din na kapag work from home less gastos ako, and nakakasama ko pa 'yung family ko, 'di nakakain ng time and effort mo."

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How bring it up with your boss

The pandemic offered a disruptive opportunity to rediscover effective work practices, including flexibility in schedules and wiggle room for leniency in responsibilities, said Mercado.

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If employees feel they cannot return to onsite work yet, it's best to talk to their bosses and human resources about it. Go straight to the point and ask them if it's possible to adjust to an earlier or later schedule to avoid the rush hour.

"You have to be flexible as well. Sabihin mo rin sa employer mo na ganito nararamdaman mo, ganito expectation mo sa management," said Mercado.

"Mental health and physical health are equal, of course 'pag burned out ka, stressed ka, sasakit na rin likod mo, sasakit na rin ulo mo," which can negatively affect work performance, she said.

Just remember that it depends on the employee's deliverables. If you're in manufacturing, you cannot take home the heavy equipment needed to create the product. If you do administrative work, you can do your job with a reliable laptop and stable internet at home, said Mercado.

Setting expectations for work output should be discussed among employees and employers, she said. If hybrid work arrangement is possible, employers should know it would take time for employees to adjust before they regain peak performance.

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How bosses should respond

Employers and human resources should be flexible to help employees adjust to onsite work, said Mercado.

Tweak company policies for the new normal

Tardiness rules can be relaxed as employees face a possibly grueling commute after two years at home, Mercado said.

Convert unused employee benefits to fit the new normal

"For example sa HMO, add tayo beneficiaries like sa mga empleyadong may senior citizen na kasama, mga bata, dagdagan natin, add tayo coverage," she said.

Offer flexible work arrangements

Hybrid work set-up is an option, said Mercado. Employees can work onsite for two days a week and elsewhere for the rest of the week, for example. Output-based work can also be considered.

Be empathetic

"[Employers] have to put yourself in employees' shoes kasi lahat tayo ay struggling, lahat tayo may kanya-kanyang problema. As employers... mas pairalin natin ang [pagbantay sa] well-being ng mga empleyado."

"A happy employee is a happy customer. Lagi mong aalagaan ang mga employee mo kasi sila 'yung mag-aalaga sa business mo."

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Tessa Mercado is a human resources manager of MC-Credit Solutions LLC who uses social media like TikTok to educate employees about human resources and share career tips. Check out her account Millennial HR Manager on TikTok and Facebook

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