Why Return-To-Work Anxiety is Real and What Leaders Can Do to Support Their Teams

 In Blog

Return-to-work anxiety along with worry about what the future holds, post-pandemic, is our new reality. In fact, almost 70% of Ontarians surveyed believe the province is headed for a “serious mental health crisis” as it emerges from this pandemic.1 A recent Ontario poll, conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association, revealed that almost 80% of Ontarians are worried about what the future will look like once the outbreak is over and 77% of respondents said more mental health supports will be necessary to help society as we move forward.2

This is not a situation that is unique to Canadians. A survey conducted in the UK also revealed that 31% of workers were anxious about commuting to work with the figure rising to 52% in London, where commutes are often longer.3 According to a recent Leger survey, only 20% of Canadians and 19% of Americans want to stop working from home and go back to their workplace entirely.4

As the statistics show, we have all been impacted in some way and at any given point in time, some of us will be struggling more than others. Is my fear real? Am I being foolish to worry? Why can’t I cope as well as my peers?

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health remains prevalent in society and return-to-work anxiety only exacerbates any pre-existing reluctance for people to reach out for help. Coupled with possible financial strain, loss of loved ones, there is no doubt what will likely remain post-pandemic is an indelible impact on our collective mental health. This is what experts predict will be of the biggest pandemic-related issues we will face in 2021 and beyond.

As leaders, we aren’t necessarily mental health experts, but we can help facilitate a safe and supportive work environment. I believe it begins with compassion. Compassion goes beyond sympathy as there is an intent to act on the feeling and actually help the person in distress.

In this short video, I talk about the importance of compassion, represented by the “C” in the ICARE framework which is a central part of the WeCARE eLearning program offered to workplaces. The framework is just one example of the many helpful resources included with the program and provides five evidence-based steps to help a teammate who is struggling.

You can download a free copy of the ICARE framework here

1 Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. (2020). Mental Health During COVID-19 Ontario Survey Results. Conducted with support from Pollara Strategic Insights.  

2 Supra, note 1, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. (2020).  


4 Leger/The Canadian Press Survey Returning to Work, May 31, 2021. 

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