Tips for Returning to Work After COVID-19
By Martha Michael
When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were declared a few months ago, you put yourself into high gear to set up an effective remote work experience. But now that businesses are opening and individuals who have been working on-screen are heading back to their office spaces, you may find yourself shifting into reverse.
Your challenges are different now than when your boss sent you home and you sought to maintain productivity or handle a huge reduction in pay. Returning to the workplace after restrictions are lifted brings a new set of considerations in the age of COVID-19.
Safety in the Workplace
When your employer decides it’s safe to open the office, you want to know your health is protected on the job site. According to research, the level of risk you face depends on your occupation.
The New York Times has an article pointing out differences among various careers when it comes to safety at work during the pandemic. For instance, grocery store cashiers and other service workers have a higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus than loggers, who have very little chance of contracting the virus.
The Department of Labor has a database assigning a score to a range of occupations so you can compare and contrast the safety of workers on the job. Rating them from 0 to 100, their scores represent two factors: exposure to disease and physical proximity to people.
They looked at details such as how often they use a phone and where they conduct their work in relation to others. A chart displaying their scores reveals a range of safety levels from one occupation to another:
- Job Title (exposure to diseases-proximity to people)
- Lawyers (14-34)
- Childcare workers (35-68)
- Dentists (95-98)
- Janitors (47-48)
- Flight attendants (77-96)
- Commercial pilots (25-81)
- Loggers (1-7)
- Garbage collectors (63-31)
- Chefs/head cooks (15-81)
- Real estate agents (4-71)
- Cashiers (26-77)
- Tire repair and changers (16-65)
- Telemarketers (5-77)
The Occupational Health and Safety website has an article with recommendations for talking to your employer about safety concerns when you return to work. Unfortunately, state agencies have a backlog of complaints due to COVID-19, so you should initially try to talk with your boss on your own.
OSHA requires companies to provide employees with proper personal protective equipment, or PPE. The CDC recommends cloth masks for the workforce interfacing with travelers and for high-volume retail such as grocery stores. Those who work in food preparation are also supposed to wear gloves.
You may want to set up a meeting with your employer as a group so that everyone understands the collective problems you face. When an issue mushrooms or goes unanswered by your superiors, then you may consider an official complaint or a report to the public health department.
Some experts say it takes a couple of weeks to turn a practice into a habit, so imagine the life changes after 80 or more days at home. American workers are experiencing reverses in lifestyle from working just a few feet from where they sleep to in-person meetings and adhering to schedules. For many, the structure of the average workday will be very different from what it has been for the last few months, which means they may need to undo some aspects of their routines.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, posted an article on his website with suggestions for changing bad habits to good ones. Most bad habits are caused by either stress or boredom, he says, so it makes sense that during a months-long pause in life as you know it, some of your routine may now include unhealthy practices.
Some of the less constructive habits listed by Clear include shopping, drinking, biting your nails and sleeping too much. To begin the job of reducing these practices his first suggestion is to ask yourself, “What is the benefit?”
You continue a habit -- even a bad one -- because it offers you something. Sometimes you repeat a behavior because it’s a biological boost, such as smoking or drug use, while others are caused by an emotional craving such as pulling out your hair or clenching your jaw. Seemingly harmless behaviors can hinder positive output and decrease your overall wellness. Repeatedly opening your email inbox, for instance, can reduce your productivity and add stress, but you do it because you are craving a feeling of connection.
When you determine the underlying need, you can find a different behavior that fulfills the same purpose and choose to change.
Find a Substitute
It isn’t hard to find alternatives to laziness or overeating, but if the less constructive habits you picked up don’t have a natural opposite, it requires more thought. You are the authority on which behaviors can replace your worst habits because you know what motivates you.
Clear has some suggested replacements for common urges that crop up when you’re stressed or bored. If you’re trying to drop the cigarette habit, you can react to stress with deep breathing or meditation instead. If procrastination sets in because of endless time on Facebook or other social media fixations, devise a plan and start small -- write one sentence or paragraph for work between episodes of scrolling and build from there.
We often develop an association, such as movies with popcorn, and by changing your environment you can reduce your desire to activate the same bad habits. Stop overeating when you watch TV by sitting in a different spot on the couch or changing the time of day you catch up on your shows. You can also find another activity for your hands, such as needlepoint or video games.
Join With Others
Many of the best choices in life are motivated by connection with friends or family. Make a pact with someone to eat healthy or stop smoking. Accountability to others can improve the odds that you’ll follow through. You may consider making new friends with people who also want to develop healthier lifestyles, because it can help you maintain your resolve.
Steering in a new direction isn’t always easy, especially if your car is stuck in park. As you slowly pull away from a situation that took you curbside -- and most of us were locked down on the curb as the nation dealt with COVID-19 -- looking in the rearview mirror to see where you’ve been can help you get where you need to go.
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