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Returning to work after shielding: guide for individuals

As COVID-19 becomes more in control and lockdown restrictions are eased, those of us who have shielded will be invited to transition back into work when it is safe to do so. The thought of returning to work after shielding is likely to affect each of us in different ways. You may feel relief in being able to go back to a sense of normality and to see people, or you may feel anxious and apprehensive to go outside and into the workplace again. Whatever you are feeling, remember that this is completely ok. This guide is designed to offer you supportive advice to help you to transition back into the workplace in a safe and comfortable way:

Take small steps: As lockdown restrictions start to ease, start with small steps that feel right for you. It could be as simple as spending more time in your garden (if you have one) or just opening and standing in the front door or in a window, reminding yourself what it feels like to be outside again. When you feel safe to do so, try going for a short walk up your street, wearing a scarf or covering your face to help you feel a sense of safety and protection. Walk a little longer the next time until you feel more comfortable outside again. If you have access to a car and can drive, you could try going for a short drive. Do the things that help you to transition back into a sense of normality in a way that feels right for you. This will help you to feel more prepared to re-enter your workplace when it is safe to do so.

Only return when it is safe: You may feel eager to get back to work and see people, or you may feel anxious or pressured to do this, especially if you are feeling a sense of guilt where your colleagues have been working in your usual workspace and you have not been able to join them. Remember, shielding guidelines were there to protect you and following them was the right thing to do. Your personal safety is what’s most important, and you can check the current Government guidelines on shielding here.

Talk to your manager: Your manager is there to support you. Share how you are feeling with them. This could include the things you may be looking forward to when returning to work, and any anxieties that you may have. Your manager will be able to put you at ease by sharing how the workplace has been made safe to return to work, work through any anxieties you still have, and put in place any personalised measures to support you to safely re-enter work. Keep this conversation going with your manager after you have return, as they are there to support you.

Work flexibly, where you can: COVID-19 has enabled us all to consider ways of working flexibly. It may be possible to explore more flexible ways of working with your employing organisation that will help you when returning to the workplace. Have the conversation with your manager or Human Resources team to see what may be possible.

Connect with your team: Whilst you have been shielding, you may have had less contact with your team members. As you return to work, it may be difficult to re-connect at first. Try and re-connect with your colleagues before you return if you can or make this your main priority on your first day back. Colleagues may find it difficult to understand what it was like to have shielded and how you are feeling having to transition back into the workplace. Talking about it helps. If you feel able to, try and share how you are feeling, what it has been like whilst shielding and then returning to work. This may help them to support you a little better when you return.  

Monitor how you feel: We are all different and transitions in our lives impact us in unexpected and changeable ways. You may experience mixed emotions, happiness to re-connect with colleagues and re-enter the workplace, or fear and anxiety from having to be in a place where you perceive you could be less safe than in your own home. It’s helpful to notice these emotions and how they are making you feel, as acknowledging them helps you to deal with them. Meditation can also help you with this, and there are free meditation apps on people.nhs.uk.

Seek support when you need to: If you remain feeling anxious, it’s ok to seek support. Speak to your manager and Human Resources team to explore what they can do to support you to feel safe and effectively return to work. If you have any medical-related questions, seek advice from your GP or the healthcare practitioners that would normally support you. People are there to help.

In the moment support, using the BPM technique: If you are feeling overwhelmed at any time, try this simple ‘BPM’ technique to help you get through it:

  1. Breathe: Take a deep breath and close your eyes if you can. This will anchor you into the moment and enable you to connect with how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
  2. Pause: Take a moment to pause and gain perspective to explore all your options and the best way forward. How are you feeling right now? What do you want to have happened? Who can help you? What skills do you have that will help you? What have you done in the past that was similar, and what did you learn that can help you now?
  3. Move forward: When you have considered all of your options, choose the one(s) that will help you most. Move forward decisively, in the knowledge that you are doing the best you can.

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