Freedom Day: How to talk to your boss about returning to the office

It’s been well over a year for many working from home. And although this new normal may have taken some getting used to, with ‘Freedom Day’ already here, could see this routine change once again.

It’s important to initiate a conversation with your manager or employer to voice any concerns you may have, especially if you are anxious about returning to the office due to concerns about their health, loved ones, or who are returning to work after having time off due to an illness, such as Long Covid.

Whether you’re returning to the office full time, hybrid working or continuing to work from home on a permanent basis, we all need to be compassionate and aware of the challenges this might pose for our friends and colleagues who aren’t quite ready to return to ‘normal’. 

Five tips to help you talk to your boss about returning to work

To help, Amy Tomlinson, Head of HR at MetLife UK, shares five tips to help with the transition from the home office to the workplace.

1) Speak to your boss about any concerns

Having concerns about returning to the office is to be expected, something that a year ago would have just been another day now feels like a big milestone. Working from home has been the new normal for over a year now, so it’s not surprising that it will take time to adjust to the transition. Just like moving from the office to home was for others.

But if you have concerns then speak to your boss. They’ll be able to help support you. You may feel hesitant about speaking to them, but help is there for when you need it. Our Re:Me research found that six in ten (61%) workers say their boss is more aware of their personal circumstances than ever before. So, you most certainly won’t be alone and its important leaders are aware of how their teams are feeling. 

2) Ask about flexible working 

Many employers have already announced what the return to work will look like from now on, but if your company has yet to release their plans, don’t be afraid to speak to your boss or HR team and ask for an update. If your employer is planning full office-based working, then speak to them to see what their flexible working policy is and if there is the option to work from home – even if just a couple of days a week.

You may find they’ll be much more receptive to flexible working than before the pandemic. Writing a formal proposal clearly and confidently will help explain why you feel this decision is best for your productivity and personal wellbeing. It is important to consider how you plan to remain fully connected to the business and colleagues if others are returning to the office.

3) Support others

Some workers will be excited to return to the office, while for others, they would prefer to work from home. So, it’s important to support your colleagues and respect that it might be more difficult or easier for some than it will be for others.

Being sympathetic and understanding will go a long way to making those feeling more anxious about returning, more comfortable. Providing channels for staff to share their concerns is critical to helping them to best adjust.

4) Take it easy and ask for help 

If you’ve had a significant amount of time off work due to illness, such as long COVID, then its important you have a clear pathway to return to work. Speak to your support network if you have any concerns. Long COVID is very new and not much is known about it, so don’t be too disheartened if your colleagues don’t fully understand. Speak to your boss or HR team to see what support is available via your employee benefits.

We offer MetLife policyholders access to a range of wellbeing services, with support available 24 hours a day. For Group Income Protection, we also offer a new rehabilitation service, which is designed to support the management of symptoms which most significantly impact workers, with a focus on empowering them to return to their pre-COVID activities.

5) Be open and honest 

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, or know of a worker who is, then be open, honest and speak to a colleague or your boss. The pandemic has been a challenging time. From being told to socially distance, only leave for essential journeys and not seeing family, friends or colleagues, it may feel strange to overnight return to a greater degree of normality.

Easing yourself in may help too, so perhaps see if you can visit the office one day a week to familiarise yourself once more. Others will feel the same, so lean on your colleagues and networks of support within the organisation.