“As many people have worked from home they might have gotten used to that situation, and going back to work is another change from that new normal.”
He said the psychological phenomenon was often observed in prisoners who had served lengthy periods behind bars, with many feeling increased anxiety about a return to life as a free person.
Added to that vague anxiety, Professor Beccaria said, was the very real fear people had of potentially contracting the virus once they returned to office environments, despite Queensland’s relatively low rate of community transmission.
The Queensland government has urged workplaces to consider letting at least some of their staff continue to work from home, and stagger start and finish times to prevent peak-hour crushes on public transport and in areas with high foot traffic such as Brisbane’s CBD.
Professor Beccaria said one positive of the situation was that people seemed more willing to publicly talk about their concerns than in the past, both because of a greater acceptance of mental health issues, and because the pandemic gave everyone a shared frame of reference.
“I think businesses have done pretty well over the lockdowns, but they need to be aware that as we transition out of them there could be some employees who aren’t doing as well as they could be, and just to check in with those people and support them where possible,” he said.
“We know that any mental health issue is best dealt with when it’s brought out in the open as opposed to being locked away.”
Professor Beccaria said no one should feel strange about being anxious to return to an office, and everyone should be aware that some people will struggle with another big change to their routine.
“As humans, any change can have that degree of stress about it, and it is normal to feel anxiety about it,” he said.
“It’s not going to be the case for everyone, but colleagues and coworkers really need to keep an eye out for someone not doing well, and making sure they’re OK.”