Don’t Want to Go Back to the Office? You’re Not Alone

View of Office building through lit windows

Anxiety about going back to the office is real. Hybrid setups are gobbling up more days a week and the thought of returning to ‘normal’ is devastating for many. Going back in means saying goodbye to a newfound work-life balance and readjusting to a more rigid structure. Is it any wonder that most employees don’t want to go back to the office?

Forcing workers to return to the office 

Remember being a kid and seeing those depressingly cheery ‘back-to-school!’ posters that came out near the end of the summer holidays? Not two minutes after you’ve thrown your uniform to the back of the wardrobe there they were. Pictures of smiling children looking ecstatic to be wearing the latest sensible school shoe and pinafore combo. Set squares and protracters at the ready for all those semi-circles that needed drawing once term started.

Like most children, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being forced back into a uniform to go back to a place I didn’t want to go.

It was a big sign saying, “Never mind the sunshine, it’ll soon be time for prison again!” Day prison obviously, with a tuck shop and climbing ‘apparatus’.

Row of typewriters on old school desks outside.

But we had to go to school. It was where the learning happened. In theory. In my school, it was where the chair throwing happened and teachers wore coats in winter when we weren’t allowed. But that’s another story. No, I didn’t go to school in the 1890s, it just felt like it.

I digress.

My point is that we had to go to school. How else would we play with Bunson Burners, learn about Roman roads 3 times and break sowing machines? And I’m sure those who work with Bunson Burners will go in to play with the gas taps without complaint. But the rest who don’t want to go back into the office shouldn’t have to just because their employer has had an attack of ‘productivity paranoia’.

Working from home is more productive

Despite proof of greater productivity at home, employers don’t trust their employees. Half of all business leaders believe that if they can’t see you, it means you’re not working. If they could work out how to install monitoring software on the proverbial tree falling in the forest, they would. Instead, they’ve settled for making 49% of all employees distrust them back. And it seems with good reason.

Man in the dark working with double monitors

Amazon has sent warning emails to staff for not spending enough time in the office. Meanwhile, Zoom-who enabled remote work during lockdowns in the first place, benefitting hugely- has ordered staff back in as well.

It makes you wonder if businesses have learned anything at all from quiet quitting, the rise of the lazy girl job trend, and the Great Resignation. The over-55s aren’t coming back to the office if they don’t have to. Some of this is burnout and dissatisfaction with a lack of autonomy. It reveals something about how much the workforce can be pushed to the limit before saying no. And it’s not just that we don’t want to go back to the office. There are caring responsibilities for children and ageing parents, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of yourself and your home. Quite frankly, there’s too much to do.

We are not all social beings

The argument for returning seems to be that it helps to have face-to-face collaborations and that we’re ‘social beings’. 

Humans interact as a species, we work together for survival and we have the ability to form deep interpersonal connections. It’s not about water cooler chit-chat.

In theory, war is also social.

Don’t worry I’m not suggesting you become an expansionist tyrant over the last office doughnut. 

In general, I think it’s safe to assume not many are desperate to get back to enforced office socialising.

Except maybe the extroverts. The extroverts probably want to be social beings at you. Either way, some people need a lot of social interaction; Some do not.  

Going in more often may be great for you, it may provide you with the balance you need. But for those grappling with anxiety about going back to the office, it can feel like the opposite.

Woman with laptop with head in hands feeling anxiety about going back to the office.

The worst part about many of these hybrid policies is that they’re non-negotiable. The employee has no control at all. Specific mandatory days and set hours in office each week can be unproductive and stifling.

Work-life balance- whose time is it anyway?

Working from home works. 

Don’t get me wrong, going outside once in a while has its advantages. You don’t want to turn into Richmond from The IT Crowd after all. And sunlight is good; helps you avoid Rickets.

But this just proves the point: Sitting in a gloomy, over-airconditioned office – It’s Britain, not the Riviera, I don’t care how many heatwaves we get- is not a good use of time on this earth. 

Most workers feel anxiety about going back to the office because they feel they’ve finally achieved a decent work-life balance. It feels less like drudgery even though most people aren’t doing any less work or fewer hours. In fact, they’re doing more because they can. The office doesn’t close when it’s your bedroom.  

Going back in symbolizes a disruption in that carefully crafted balance. For instance, all that commuting is a part of your personal time you don’t get back. And if working from home has meant feeling healthy for the first time in years, It’s natural to feel anxiety about going back to the office.

And it’s not like Covid is actually gone either. The people in my home are still classed as vulnerable.  That doesn’t stop being true, vaccine or not. I don’t want to bring it home regardless of how symptom-free it may be for some.

Gut health: stress on the mind, stress on the gut

Colourful veggies in a bowl on a white table

Anxiety about going back to the office extends beyond the immediate risk of COVID-19. Studies show that stress can impact the microbiome. Changes in how we eat and when can be stressful for the body. Stress can cause less beneficial bacteria (like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) and more harmful bacteria (like Clostridia) to grow in your gut. This imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to digestive disorders like IBS.

Anxiety about going back to the office can cause your body’s stress response to trigger autoimmune conditions like eczema. It seems stress, changes in air quality, and exposure to potential allergens can all cause flare-ups.

Distractions and interruptions in the office

Man wearing noise cancelling headphone to avoid office distractions

How many of you put noise-cancelling headphones on at work? quite a few I’ll bet. That’s mainly thanks to the genius of open-plan offices. That thing that lets businesses squeeze every last inch out of a floorplan and call it a ‘collaborative, social space’. Other buzzwords are available.

Mostly it means you can’t hear yourself think – Joan from accounting (two departments over but inexplicably in the same room) is on a mission to find those missing catering invoices from the Christmas do.

The last time I worked in an open-plan office, I got a front-row seat to the organising of the quarterly ‘fun day’ which I wasn’t invited to. I was a temp. Small mercies. And that’s when it’s actual work conversation. Chit-chat is worse.

So distractions. That’s where this was going.

Some people like background noise to work. I just tune into whatever anyone’s talking about like it’s a daytime soap. 

And that’s before you factor in introversion, neurodivergence and people who don’t like overwhelming noise. It can feel like being under siege.

We’ve been doing productivity this way since the Victorians. Office clerks sat side by side on long canteen-style benches and didn’t take their coats off until day’s end.

It was cold.

They huddled by candlelight, Bob Cratchit style, yet there wasn’t a singing frog or rat in sight. At least it was quiet. Also probably there were rats.

Yes, I have read the book.

Studies show that it takes an average of 23 minutes to regain full concentration after being interrupted. This means that even a seemingly minor interruption can have a huge impact. Constantly having to refocus is draining.  Isn’t it time we treated workers less like machines, allowing them the choice of working where they feel most productive?

Don’t want to go back to the office- how about freedom to choose?

There’s something really special about choosing where you work. The freedom of that choice has a huge impact on mental wellbeing and stimulates creativity too. Autonomy is a fundamental human need and the lack of it is one of the biggest causes of burnout.

Being confined to the same space day in and day out makes it feel like you never actually leave. Yet somehow you spend all your time commuting or going to bed so you have enough energy for the commuting.

The office is not inspiring

A coffee shop window by night with streetlights

A bland environment makes you less creative as well. There’s a reason we find inspiration in a coffee shop, quiet jazz playing and rain blurring streetlights out the window. And who wouldn’t choose a cosy sofa at home, fairy lights and a mocha over a grey office?

Lastly

Anxiety about returning to the office is natural, but this is a shared experience. It might not be much, but you can take some comfort in the fact that you won’t be the only one with concerns.

Try to focus on what you can do. 

Establish a routine, eat better where you can, and stay focused on the things you love.

And as always, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

This post may contain affiliate links

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *