Returning to work after the lockdown certainly seems so, what with many employees of India Inc trooping nervously back – at least those who don’t have the option of working from home anymore.
After more than two months under a nationwide lockdown which lulled many into a false sense of security, the return to offices is bringing with it a sense of anxiety and apprehension.
How safe is it to step out now? What if I pass on the virus to my family? What can I do to protect myself? These are the questions many are asking in the new normal, as the government reopens the economy amid rising cases of Covid-19 infections.
A marketing executive at an FMCG firm has started taking along a spare set of clothes ever since the office reopened last week.
Once back, she changes in the building’s common staff bathroom before heading up to the apartment, where family members keep a bucketful of water with disinfectant ready to soak the discarded clothes in.
Only after a bath does she interact with family.
A public-sector bank employee, who has been taking a bus from Navi Mumbai to his office in SoBo every day, has taken to wearing a Tee-shirt and a full-sleeved shirt, along with gloves, mask and a cap. He is taking no chances although it is sweltering outside – and the extra paraphernalia often leaves him feeling suffocated.
For employees stepping out of the lockdown after more than two months, it has become a strange new world – a world filled with anxiety, say psychologists.
Psychologist Geetanjali Kumar, owner of Aakar Counseling and Wellness Centre in Delhi, says there has been a near-doubling of queries (5-6 each day) from clients who are anxious about returning to work.
Some, she says, border on paranoia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Take, for instance, an employee in his mid-30s working for a Gurugram-based IT solutions company, who did not sleep for two days after he was told that he needed to be back in office twice a week. Soon, he stocked up on spray sanitisers, gloves and was searching for a personal protective suit.
Another client, who is a banker, narrated how her mother became terrified at the prospect of her regular office commutes, fearing she would contract the infection. The mother is now undergoing sessions with Kumar.
“When the lockdown was on, we were initially in denial, which changed into fear when we heard of the impact of the pandemic globally. Then came a point when we oscillated between acceptance and anger and understanding. Now, there is a dilemma: it’s personal safety vs economic hazard,” Kumar says.
There will be another circle of acceptance and anger since cases have spiked, she adds.
“People have no option but to go back to work, because they know there’s a risk of losing their jobs,” she says.
At a time like this, organisations need to be prepared and communicate exactly what they have put in place for a sanitised and healthy work environment, says Leena Chatterjee, professor of organisational behaviour at IIM-Calcutta.
Companies need to think out every possible scenario and how to deal with it. Alertness, planning and good procedures to handle crises are crucial in soothing employee worries, she says.
Companies also say they are taking all possible steps to reassure staff.
Axis Bank HR head Rajkamal Vempati says anxiety while returning to the workplace is normal, and to allay that, its HR team and managers are constantly having conversations with employees.
The new office layouts and social distancing measures at work are also helping.
“It’s comforting to them; we have seen employees sharing videos of the office with their family members,” says Vempati.
Axis Bank, whose branches were operational throughout the lockdown, has brought in more employees in the Unlock 1.0 phase.
At Deloitte, where a minimal number of employees have returned to office, chief talent officer SV Nathan says although the new norms and approvals sometimes take a toll on employees, the organisation is taking all possible precautions.
Learning experience platform EdCast, which plans to get employees back by next month, is proactively discussing how to allay their fears.
“We are working on stringent protocols and have put together a back-to-work handbook for employees. They are free to call us up anytime about any concern they may have,” says Shweta Pathak, head-HR and marketing – AMEA.
“Indians are emotionally more resilient. There is a psychological sturdiness in our mindset that comes from preparedness for the worst,” says sociologist GK Karanth.
Given the current economic crisis, people returning to offices are also grateful that they still have jobs, he says.
“That keeps them going.”
News Source: Economic Times