So much has changed, our nervous systems have been under attack, and, as we re-emerge, things feel rather disorienting.
We have endured a “species-level trauma" this past year, psychologist Christine Runyan noted in a recent episode of the On Being with Krista Tippett podcast. So much has changed, our nervous systems have been under attack, and, as we re-emerge, things feel rather disorienting.
For years, I've been advising new parents how to navigate the return to work after parental leave in calmer and more successful ways, and I truly believe there is much to be learned from that experience in the return-to-the-office environment.
For starters, it's helpful to remember that the return to work from parental leave is a process, not an event. After their first week back on the job, new parents who come back to work after having a baby often wonder if they're doing something wrong when they don't feel back to their usual, pre-baby work-selves. However, there's nothing wrong. It just takes about a year to re-acclimate to your new life, rhythm and identity. The same is likely to be true of everyone who returns to offices. It may take time to feel “normal" again.
Another lesson we can learn from successfully returning from parental leave is that transition rituals really matter. Pre-COVID-19, when I commuted to an office in Washington, D.C., I had a practice of taking the metro downtown and stopping off either at a park bench or, in inclement weather, a hotel lobby and simply breathing for five minutes while using the Insight Timer meditation app. This simple act of pausing helped me to transition from thinking about what was going on at home to getting my head in a better place to start my workday.
As you head back into an office, can you pause in your car or find time to reset before you enter your office building and the workday begins?
I always like to encourage new parents to call attention and celebrate the skills they are gaining through parenthood that are useful to their careers. Here, in this post-COVID-19 environment, take a moment to stop and think about all the skills you've gained by living through a pandemic.
I am certain you have grown some amazing leadership qualities—whether it's courage, patience or adaptability. After months of working from home while dealing with remote elementary school, I can absolutely say that my flexibility muscles are incredibly buff right now.
It's hard to go through major life transitions in isolation. Just as I advise new parents to “find their people" upon the return to work after baby, so too should we all be seeking meaningful connections as we return to our offices. We will not be returning as the same people who walked out the doors in March 2020, so it's worth spending quality time getting reacquainted in person, even with colleagues we've known for ages.
If you put one foot in front of the other, pause throughout your day, draw on the skills you've gained, and find camaraderie with peers, you'll be setting yourself up for a much smoother and more successful return.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, J.D., believes in empowering working parents. She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of “Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave," and co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast. She is mama to two wonderful red-headed boys and is a partner in the health care practice at Dentons US LLP.