Let’s pretend for a second that this pandemic didn’t happen. If you were beginning a job search in an alternate 2021, you’d probably still feel overwhelmed. The idea of going into a new office, meeting new people, making a good first impression, learning a new routine, trying to get along with new personalities, performing the job well, etc. is enough to stress anyone out.
Now let’s get back to reality. On top of all those worries, you have additional things to consider:
- Is the office socially distanced?
- Does an employer’s hybrid work model work for my schedule?
- What sanitation measures are being taken to keep the office safe?
But the real big one is this: What if I get all the way to a job offer and I realize I’m not ready to go back to the office/be around people? Do I turn down my dream job?
New Job Nerves or Something Else?
While you may think of these thoughts as typical job search worry, what it actually is, is anxiety: social anxiety to be specific. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety is “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others; this fear can affect work, school, and your other day-to-day activities.”
Keep in mind, feeling anxious is a completely normal and --in manageable levels-- a healthy and productive emotion to experience. It’s when that anxiety becomes so intense it impedes your quality of life and/or ability to do the things you want to do --like say, taking an opportunity you want --is when social anxiety becomes problematic.
Regardless of your experience with social anxiety, however, it’s important to remember you are not alone and there are resources available to help you.
Getting Back to Work is Hard Work
Whether you were laid off, furloughed, or looking to make a career change, returning to the office can be a huge transition. And there’s a lot to think about: What do you do when the position you interviewed for requires you to work in-office? Are you mentally prepared for a change in your routine?
Fortunately, there are some questions you can ask your potential employer that can help curb your anxiety about returning to the working world--especially if you are feeling unsure or overwhelmed about the idea of working in an office.
- What are your safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to your employees working in the office?
- Whether it’s additional cleaning, face masks, temperature checks, or mandatory vaccinations, a prospective employer should be able to answer this question. We’re all subject to changing aspects of the pandemic; while their answer might not be the be-all-end-all, your interviewer should be able to inform you of the steps they’re taking to keep their workforce safe.
- When an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, what steps do you take to ensure the safety and health of your employees?
- OSHA has regulations that encourage employers to inform employees to monitor symptoms and signs of COVID-19.
- In addition to OSHA guidelines, businesses that prioritize employee health and safety may have additional processes in place to protect their employees.
- If someone tests positive, how will this be communicated? What steps are in place to contact trace? How are the employees who test positive and/or have to quarantine protected?
- Businesses have much more leeway than you may realize when it comes to employees who test positive. Of course, when someone tests positive, they won’t be coming into work, but it’s not always clear what happens after that.
- Does quarantining apply to those that came in contact with the person who tested positive? (How) will other team members be informed? If you are required to quarantine, will you be able to work from home? If a remote setup is not possible, will you need to take unpaid leave and/or have to use your vacation days?
- Although it might be uncomfortable to ask about specific benefits and “sick pay” before you have been offered a job, you need to do what’s best for you. Wanting to understand the processes in place and COVID-19 protocols is something that employers will understand.
Getting over the Hump
Let’s face it, switching jobs is stressful enough without going through a pandemic. Starting a new job is one of the top 10 biggest life-changing events. You have to learn a new company, team, management dynamic and you have to get used to a new commute (or set up a workspace if working from home).
Understandably, you may have anxieties about returning to the corporate world. While these questions may not completely address all of your anxieties about returning to the office, we do know that the best way to combat the fear of the unknown is through education.
If you find your professional goals are being held back by your anxieties about jumping back into the job world, it’s important to seek professional help and/or talk to your loved ones or another trusted source for assistance.
Social anxiety is more than just being shy or feeling uncomfortable around new people. A professional who specializes in assisting those with social anxiety is the best option for help because they can teach you healthy techniques and give guidance on how to manage your mental health; they can help you identify triggers and teach coping mechanisms.
Although they are not professionals, a family member, friend, or other trusted source can be helpful to talk to as a reminder that you are not alone. Your mental health is important. If you’re struggling, it’s important to communicate how you are feeling with someone.
Whether it's seeking professional counseling, talking to a close confidant, or asking interview questions to learn more about a company’s views on employee safety and welfare, equipping yourself with the right tools to combat social anxiety can go a long way in helping you find a clear head and make the employment decision that is best for you.