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How to handle office politics when you return to work

Two businesspeople standing face to face
A third of workers dread going into work because of their colleagues. Photo: Getty

Working from home can be stressful, but it comes with many perks. Yes, Zoom calls are exhausting and it’s hard to switch off at the end of the day, but there’s something to be said for being able to work in a quiet, relaxing environment — away from troublesome colleagues.

Many of us will be affected by office politics at some point. In fact, a third of workers dread going into work because of their colleagues, while a fifth of Brits say their manager is the worst part of their job.

With lockdown restrictions lifting, employees are beginning to return to their workplaces. But with tensions high, some are finding it harder to go back to working alongside other people.

“After a prolonged period out of the office there will be a period of re-adjustment as people get used to being back in the office,” says business and executive coach Jessica Rogers, a member of the Life Coach Directory.

READ MORE: Why offices will still exist in the post-lockdown working world

“That coupled with inevitable fears and anxieties around Covid can put people on edge. There will also be the adjustments that will be needed which could be challenging for some.”

Few UK workers have ever lived or worked through anything as disruptive as the ongoing pandemic and the subsequent recession. Not only have people lost loved ones, incomes and spent months in isolation, it’s a time of heightened anxiety about the future.

Workplaces also look very different to the way they did before. We’re having to keep our distance from others, wear personal protection equipment and work behind protective screens. Even wearing a mask — or not wearing one — is enough to spark a heated debate in these strange times.

“People will have different attitudes to the risk of COVID-19 too which may lead to some challenging conversations,” Rogers explains. “There will still be people who need to work at home if they are vulnerable or have caring responsibilities, so those who are back in the office will have to adjust to some distance team working and collaborating which could cause some issues.”

So what is the best way to navigate office politics when you return to work?

It’s easy to get sucked into a conversation that turns sour, particularly if you’ve become used to working alone under lockdown. But it’s important to take a step back if you find yourself getting upset or irritated with an opinionated colleague, rather than let things escalate.

If you are subject to underhand tactics by someone, don’t sink to their level. You’ll end up in a cycle of retaliation which is unlikely to benefit you in the long-run, and may negatively affect your mental wellbeing. It may help to calmly speak to them about an issue, or if necessary, talk to your manager or your HR department.

For employers, it’s important that all returning staff are kept up-to-date with developments and changes to the workplace to reduce stress. Tensions will be reduced if employees feel well-informed and safe — and it will make going back to work much easier.

READ MORE: Lockdown is breaking the stigma of juggling work and parenting

“Be honest and keep the lines of communication open particularly if some people are still home-working,” Rogers says. “Agree how you will operate as a team in terms of physical boundaries — fewer meetings, fewer team members being required at meetings, or meetings outside off site.”

It’s also important to remember that everyone has had a degree of trauma adjusting to this global pandemic, Rogers explains. Everyone is anxious, stressed and feeling threatened by the situation, which can make us more likely to act out.

“Don’t make it a ‘trauma competition’ but do share how you are feeling openly as far as possible,” she adds.

“Be open to being flexible to each other’s needs whether it be the need to be in the office to stave off feelings of isolation or, the need to be at home because of genuine fears around COVID-19. Be sure to listen to each other so that there is clarity on where people are coming from.”