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How to Prevent a Toxic Post-Pandemic Workplace

It's been over a year since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and many businesses and offices are welcoming customers and employees back inside. But it's relatively obvious that life as we know it will never be the same.

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We’ve emerged from this tunnel of darkness wiser about ordinary, everyday life habits, but we’ve also distanced ourselves from others. This distancing is both physical and emotional. One unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is the division in beliefs. First, there was the controversy over wearing masks, with some people adamantly resisting. And more recently, the vaccine has caused its fair share of conflict, specifically, the tension between anti-vaxxers and those who have embraced the drug.

Now that many places of business are opening back up, employers are charged with creating a positive and safe workplace atmosphere that bridges the emotional divide and eases tension over differing beliefs. Here are a couple of pointers to consider when approaching this task.

Related: The Post-Pandemic Playbook for Small Businesses

Working with anti-vaxxers and not shaming them

Deciding not to be vaccinated is a personal choice. While proponents of the vaccine believe those who shun it are selfish and possibly a danger to society, they don’t know the reasons behind the decision, some of which may be medical. They aren’t approaching the conflict from the same place; therefore, they should not allow their personal beliefs to flow into the workplace. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when everyone is back together in the office is keeping an open mind concerning each other’s personal decisions about the vaccine. Mostly, co-workers will need to be professional and control their emotions for a smooth transition and a positive work environment. If you are in a situation with a co-worker who hasn’t been vaccinated and you do not feel comfortable being with him or her, set your own boundaries, but do not shame the person, which will have the opposite effect you want.                

(Re)Creating more caring relationships with your co-workers 

The pandemic created an unimaginable level of isolation and for many people. Resuming old habits in the workplace will be difficult for many. More than two-thirds of workers say they have some anxiety about going back to work in an office. Knowing what’s “okay” and what’s not “okay” will be subjective since some co-workers might welcome a hug or handshake, and others will shy away. The new protocol for co-worker relationships will be to respect other people’s boundaries and not expect them to have the same beliefs and fears as you. Navigating these rough waters will be awkward at first. However, once the tone of respect is established, everyone can feel comfortable and safe in the workplace.

Related: 4 Work Models that Will Define the Post-Pandemic World

Reacting reasonably to illnesses that come with Covid-like symptoms

In our post-pandemic world, every time someone coughs in public, looks get thrown his or her way like daggers. Understanding that there are other illnesses with Covid-like symptoms and reacting to them appropriately will be imperative when you return to the workplace. The person with seasonal allergies who sneezes and coughs a lot will also need to take measures to try to prevent overactive symptoms as a courtesy. However, uncontrollable symptoms of non-Covid illnesses should not cause a person to be ostracized. Educate yourself and understand that not all Covid-like symptoms are connected to Covid-19 and be understanding towards the people dealing with these symptoms.

Managerial understanding of pandemic PTSD

For most people, Covid-19 has left a nasty scar, and for some, the fears run far deeper, and it’s a very real thing: pandemic PTSD. For whatever reason, some people will harbor uncontrollable anxiety that sometimes affects their daily functioning. Managers and other team leaders will need to be understanding and flexible to accommodate these emotions. Leaders will also need to address and validate these fears to make team members feel welcome. We’ve all had different experiences over the past year and a half in dealing with the pandemic. Coming back to work might be a real source of fear and anxiety for some. Showing and understanding will help people handle their concerns and help promote positive mental for all employees.

Related: This Is What Offices Will Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World

Adjusting to the post-pandemic way of life will be essential for resuming healthy and positive relationships with colleagues. We are reaching an exciting time with people going back to the workplace. However, understanding that this process requires some special measures and extra effort is imperative for a smooth transition. The year 2020 and all of its challenges might be behind us, but its effects will linger far longer.

Aimee Harris-Newon

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon is a double-board certified integrative and interventional psychologist, entrepreneur, author, speaker and master success coach. She also hosts the radio show, Mind over Matters, which airs weekly in the Chicago area.