KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 12 — The last time Norshaffika Izzaty Zaiedy Nor worked from the office was 10 months ago, when COVID-19 cases started to become widespread in the country.
The 34-year-old public university lecturer returned to her workplace earlier this month, but this time, while four months pregnant.
This made her quite anxious.
“I’m now in one the most vulnerable groups (to COVID-19 infection) so I need to be extra cautious, especially now that so many of us have returned to the office.
“I consider myself a very sociable person and have a tendency to sit closely to people I talk to. This makes me worried because anyone among whom I’ve sat with could have been infected,” she told Bernama.
Mohamad Ridzuan Mohd Zabri, 24, who lives with his parents and grandmother, shares a similar concern.
He commutes to work via the LRT daily and worries about catching the virus and spreading it among his elderly family members.
“The commute to work via public transport takes about an hour, and I have to switch from the LRT to the bus at one point, thus increasing my chances of exposure to the virus,” he said.
Their concerns are among the many shared by millions of workers who have to return to their workplace after the movement control order (MCO) was lifted on Mar 5.
HANDLING WORK ANXIETY DURING PANDEMIC
Occupation health psychologist Dr Daniella Maryam Mohamed Mokhtar said that while many were relieved to return to the comfort and familiarity of their workplace, others were apprehensive.
“We are returning to work, but it won’t be business as usual because the pandemic is not over yet.
“Although they have started vaccinating people against COVID-19, the virus is not 100 percent gone. This creates uncertainty and anxiety about returning to the workplace,” she explained.
A senior lecturer at the School of Psychology and Human Development Studies in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Dr Daniella acknowledged that this kind of anxiety could be crippling and detrimental to a person’s mental health.
She advised them to make certain changes to their environment and mindset to reduce factors that might cause further apprehension.
“If you are easily overwhelmed by the breadth of information spewed out by social media platforms, try to consume less news and rumours related to COVID-19 on it,” she said.
They can also help ease their minds by preparing hygiene kits from themselves and family members, which can include facemasks, sanitisers and tissue packs, among others.
For those who need to take public transportation to work, planning their journey well can help them avoid the rush hour crowd.
“When outside or at the office, avoid congregating in public places. Bring home-packed meals and personal cutlery and avoid sharing tools and equipment at work,” she advised.
Working parents, meanwhile, should plan childcare in advance and discuss new daily routines with caregivers. This will help the entire family ease into new routines when they start going back to work.
EMPATHY OF EMPLOYERS
Employers too, play an important role in easing anxiety among employees returning to work, said Dr Daniella. This is because not all employees can adapt to the change at the same rate.
Some may take over a month to adjust themselves to new working norms – not just physically and mentally but socially as well.
“Perhaps employees can discuss with employers or upper management for more flexibility in returning to work. They can suggest that it be done in phases or by introducing hybrid work flows, with employees being allowed to rotate between working from home and the office,” she suggested.
She said that employers needed to not just be sympathetic of a worker’s situation, but empathic as well by taking into account the background and financial ability of each employee.
Employers also needed to prepare a solid contingency plan for the possibility of the spread of COVID-19 among employees within their organisation and workplace. This is an addition to relaying information regarding new rules and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in a clear, concise and prompt manner.
“Employees, meanwhile, need to always be mentally and physically prepared for changes regarding SOPs. Getting into the right frame of mind helps reduce disappointment and anxiety when drastic changes take place, yet again,” she said.