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Return to Office Anxiety Is Real!

As I was making dinner for my daughter and her 20-something friends recently, I overheard their many concerns and complaints of being required to return to the workplace after working remotely for so long. One loves being in her sweatpants at home; another has enjoyed living in a different city each month; and yet another likes her flexible schedule and spending the entire day with her dog. I quickly realized how extensively COVID has altered the work experience for this generation.

I enthusiastically chimed in: "Being in the office also has some real advantages! I made so many work friends, really connected with older colleagues who became mentors, and it's great to ride the elevator with the ‘big’ boss! When I look back on my days as a young professional, I know I truly valued my time in the office: important information was gleaned everyday, and I learned about various roles in my department just by walking into the ladies' room, standing by someone's desk, or even meeting for drinks after work.” Of course, the response was a lot of eye rolls and “You are so old” looks.

Many young professionals are resistant and uncertain about returning to the office. Our recent conversations with these individuals, who we define as those aged 22-30, show that many have realized they can be successful without getting dressed up or being in the office. Many young professionals have very little experience being in an office at all, so remote working is the only thing they know — and change can be scary. They are concerned with setting boundaries, having flexibility, and avoiding “burn-out”. They want to find the optimal work-life balance and prioritize comfortability in their work days.

However, some young professionals do recognize the benefits of being in the office and feel that they have been “missing out” on key aspects of that experience. They acknowledge that, while remote, it is more difficult to collaborate, network, seek mentors, and chart their career path in a tangible way.

This means that, going forward, it’s important that time in the office is spent and structured wisely. Working hours should be filled with face-to-face discussions, socialization, and group or team work. This will help younger professionals realize the value of being in an office environment, and it will also support managers in establishing better workflow and steering clear of potential burnout.

Coaching can help everyone navigate returning to the office, but it is especially important for young professionals, who need to be able to trust that the practices and values that define their work-from-home experience can easily translate to working in the office. Some questions we can explore together are, What are the factors that result in the most productivity for you? What motivates you for success in your work life? How can you take advantage of company benefits and culture? This information is also critical for managers or those in charge of establishing return-to-office policies. Coaches can help young professionals transition seamlessly to in-person environments, and work with managers to determine how to best meet the concerns that young professionals voice so that they can set policies that work for all.

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