Some Australian workers returning to the office following challenging lockdowns will struggle to communicate feelings of anxiety that might be triggered after many months of isolation from managers and colleagues.
Social Anxiety Disorder is experienced in varying degrees by more than 10% of the Australian population and can be exacerbated by extended lockdown periods.
With restrictions easing around the country, it is timely for managers to work with their teams in preparation for business-as-usual, keeping in mind the possibility that some staff members may return to work experiencing mild or severe symptoms of social anxiety.
“You might find that you were fine before, and you’ve lost confidence now,” says Catherine Madigan, clinical psychologist at Anxiety Treatment Australia.
“It’s one of the most important things after depression and alcoholism.”
As restrictions in NSW ease, The Guardian describes re-entering society as ‘relearning’ social norms previously taken for granted by many Australians, and other states will face similar challenges as they exit lockdowns. The world’s most locked-down state is particularly at risk and the mental repercussions of ongoing lockdowns are now of greater concern for many Victorians than the risk of catching COVID-19.
Social media and an array of other digital tools have made workers more reliant on technologies to communicate so returning to face-to-face contact with managers and colleagues at the office can cause social anxiety in some workers and intensify symptoms for those already suffering mild to serious forms of the condition.
“You can hide a bit on zoom,” Madigan says, “by turning the camera off, so when workers return to the office, they may be anxious about presentations, participating in meetings or even having a conversation in the tearoom.
“They could be sitting in a meeting just dreading the boss asking them a question.”
While many workers around the country have not returned to the workplace yet, workers in some states have already begun an incremental transition back to the office, prompting feelings of apprehension for those experiencing social anxiety.
“These anxious people will be worrying now,” Madigan says.
“Better to start doing something about it before you land back at work”.
But she says it needs to be done with sensitivity.
“A lot of people with social anxiety have amassed a fear of being negatively judged or evaluated so if you go up and raise …….