Learning & Development

Social Anxiety and the Return to Work

Although there are plenty of workers who fall between both ends of the spectrum, employees either desperately missed interacting in person with their colleagues or they loved their newfound isolation during the widespread shift to remote work.

social anxiety workplace

On the flip side, some employees are going to be more eager than others to return to the office. For many employees who want to stay home, the aversion to going back to the office crosses the line into social anxiety, which can have considerable impacts on emotional and mental well-being.

The Impact of Social Anxiety

“Experts say anxiety has rocketed among young people during the pandemic, and although there’s little data on exactly how many people are dealing with it, it’s estimated that 12.1% of US adults experience social anxiety at some point in their lives,” writes Katie Bishop in an article for BBC Worklife.

As employees begin to make the trek back to their physical work settings, we’re getting an early indication of how that transition will affect people who are now used to the flexibility and freedom of remote work.

European schools, says Bishop, are already experiencing an uptick in children refusing to return to school due to mental health and anxiety problems that have worsened during the pandemic. “If kids’ behaviours are the harbinger—especially because social anxiety affects younger people more—it’s possible we may see a similar trend manifest in the workplace,” she says.

Recognizing the Impact of Social Anxiety

Pre-pandemic, millions of people with social anxiety had become very used to going into the office every day. It may have been a struggle at times, or even most of the time, but it became a routine. They became familiar and comfortable not just with this routine but also with the people they regularly interacted with.

But after 2 years of remote work, it’s almost like starting all over again and being thrown headfirst into a stressful situation. This doesn’t mean that employers should immediately scrap all return-to-work plans, of course. But it is another solid data point supporting the notion that employers should take a very flexible and individualized approach to bringing staff back to the office.