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Human Resources

The help desk: what to do if you dread returning to the office

Published 28 September 2021 in Human Resources • 3 min read

The pandemic has changed all our working lives, bringing fresh challenges. Here, using the latest research, we offer solutions to any difficulties you may be facing. 


Why should I go back to the office? 

For the first few months of COVID-19, it was a struggle to change my life around. But a year and a half in, I’m enjoying my work-from-home rhythm, especially being grounded from business travel. I am more available for my children, but I also find that my productivity has increased. My office has opened up and I have gone back, but this has given me anxiety – in particular about the prospect of a return to travel for work. My boss clearly wants everyone back in the office “like the old days” How can I dial back on the in-office hours?   

You’re not alone in suffering anxiety about going back to the office and boarding a plane – it’s a topic widely discussed. Why go back? How much? When? Should companies force people to resume their old work patterns?  The only thing that is clear is that there are big discrepancies between the C-suite and employees about where work should take place. While some professions never had the opportunity to work from home, much of the working world is in transition, again. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index (a study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries), employers generally agree that flexible work (in some form) is here to stay, with 73% of employees want flexible work options.  

You will need to have a conversation with your manager about again finding a “new normal”. Before the meeting, ensure you anticipate the underlying concerns of your manager; develop a solid argument for when and why you believe working from home is more efficient and productive, and come prepared with what you are willing to compromise on. Make sure you make a clear case for why this will bring benefits to the business, not just to you. Keep in mind that your boss’s apparent reluctance to continue to have team members work remotely may not be simply because she or he is unsympathetic; it may be more a reflection of the myriad new challenges on the department’s plate and a desire for some measure of a return to normal. Concentrate on what you realistically think is possible for a fixed period, given the volatility of the situation, and offer more than one option. Perhaps you can build up office presence and business travel slowly, and become re-accustomed to the travel again. For example, trialing up to one or two fixed days in the office, and up to 20% business travel. You’ll have to be ready to experiment and have ongoing open discussions. 

Employers generally agree that flexible work is here to stay, with 73% of employees want flexible work options.  

Should I share my success and, if so, how? 

I recently won an industry-level award for my role that I’m thrilled about. But I’m not sure whether I should promote this on social media, or even tell my colleagues. I feel awkward about sharing the news with my colleagues and friends because I don’t want to be seen as bragging. 

People sometimes hide their successes and “wins” from others – often for fear of not wanting to seem like they are bragging, or perhaps hoping that others will speak up on their behalf. Interestingly, new research shows that hiding your wins has more downsides than upsides for your relationships. It can actually damage them. Others – and in particular friends and colleagues – are likely to feel insulted that you didn’t tell them, and can believe that you assumed they would be envious, and have withheld to “protect them” (which might have actually been the case). If you have a win, own it authentically, genuinely, and celebrate with important others. While they might indeed feel envious, they can also feel thrilled for you and they might also be motivated by it!  Also beware, research also shows that humblebragging backfires (e.g., “I’m so not worthy of this amazing award I just won, I don’t deserve it!”) because this can make people dislike you and find you less competent.  

Hiding your wins has more downsides than upsides for your relationships. It can actually damage them.


Alyson Meister - IMD Professor

Alyson Meister

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD

Alyson Meister is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior and Director of the Future Leaders program at IMD Business School. Specializing in the development of globally oriented, adaptive, and inclusive organizations, she has worked with executives, teams, and organizations from professional services to industrial goods and technology. She also serves as co-chair of One Mind at Work’s Scientific Advisory Committee, with a focus on advancing mental health in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter: @alymeister.


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