Despite the rising rate of vaccinations, 46% of Canadians working from home are anxious about the threat of COVID-19 if and when they return to the office, according to research released by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, a resource provided by Canada Life.

"Many Canadians are no doubt looking forward to getting back to a ‘new normal’ as vaccines roll out and the pandemic subsides," says Mary Ann Baynton, Director of Collaboration and Strategy, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. "But for those working from home, this transition presents new and unique concerns, because they've been more isolated and have been able to limit their exposure to the virus for a long time. Employers need to understand what their teams are concerned about so they can effectively support them during this significant adjustment."

Concerns over the COVID-19 threat far outweighed other sources of anxiety for employees as they head back to the workplace. The survey, which collected responses from 1120 employed adults in Canada who are working from home during the pandemic, indicates that only 10% of respondents are concerned about striking a new work-life balance, while 9% said they were anxious about commuting to and from the office. Less than 1% said their primary concern was the impact their return to the workplace would have on their children.

"When we set out to complete this survey, we were hearing anecdotal comments from friends, family members and colleagues who are currently working at home about dreading the commute, adjusting to work routines or losing time they've been spending with their family. We expected that these concerns would outweigh the fear of the virus now that vaccines are rolling out," Baynton explains. "We were surprised to see their concerns are still more focused on the virus and less focused on the change in routine."

Baynton provided advice on what employers can do to address COVID-19 fears. Before employees return to the workplace, communication and collaboration are key, she said. Taking the following steps can help:

  1. Acknowledge that returning to the workplace can be stressful for some and exciting for others. Validate the range of emotions that come with this process.
  2. Ask employees what specific steps the organization can take to help them adjust and feel safe.
  3. Clearly communicate how and when you'll implement these measures. And ask again if there are anticipated challenges once you've done so.
  4. Set the expectation that the first few weeks may be draining as everyone adjusts to a new normal.