Why YOU need to get over your FOTO (fear of the office)

Why it’s time to get over your FOTO: Psychologists, careers advisors and business leaders explain why home workers with ‘Fear Of The Office’ are passed over for promotion, have less ‘me time’ and get sicker too

  • Business leaders, human resource managers, psychiatrists and careers experts all explained why going back to the office is beneficial for workers 
  • Noted employees are more likely to be promoted or recognised in the office
  • Said team-building, innovation and productivity all suffer when working at home
  • Even the commute can be important as much-needed ‘me time’ in a busy day 

Employees who use Covid fears as an excuse to avoid going back to the office and enjoy the benefits of working from home a bit longer risk damaging their careers, and even their mental health, experts have explained.

Speaking to FEMAIL, business leaders, psychologists, human resource managers and careers experts told how many professionals have developed FOTO – or ‘fear of the office’ – while working from home over the last 18 months. 

Although a change in routine and a return to the morning commute might not seem appealing, the reality is that fed up bosses are likely to favour those who show up, with people working from home are more likely to be passed over for a promotion.

Even the commute has its benefits, with a psychologist noting that many home workers find themselves missing the ‘me time’ it builds into their day.   

It comes after an exclusive poll for MailOnline showed just a third of staff are planning to return to their workplace full-time once the rules change on July 19 and almost a fifth (18 per cent) of those surveyed by Redfield and Wilton Strategies said they would not be going back at all.

Here, the experts explain why it’s time for you to hang up those leggings, retire your Zoom background and get back in the office…  

Feeling stressed? It could be because you’re working from home: Experts explained how physical and emotional well being, as well as interpersonal relationships, suffer when we work from home as the nation prepares to go back to the office on Monday. Stock image

‘You’re more likely to be promoted if you’re in the office’ 

A recent ONS Homeworking in the UK report revealed that people who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other workers and were around 38 per cent less likely on average to have received a bonus. 

Dr Lucy Davey, a coach for professional women, said: ‘Many businesses are shifting towards more flexible working options which give employees the choice between working from home or the office. 

‘The trouble is that despite appearing more inclusive, it’s likely to result in the complete opposite. A higher proportion of women will take up the offer of working from home in order to fit around their childcare needs. 

‘Ultimately, this means that they’ll spend less time in the office, will be less visible than their office-based counterparts (often male) and less likely to be next in line for a promotion.’ 

‘Working from home has eroded company culture’

Jitesh Patel, CEO of Peldon Rose, said: ‘A physical workplace is something we have all taken for granted and without one it is incredibly difficult to define and cultivate company culture, not to mention the negative impact a lack of shared space has on collaborative working. 

‘I’m positive that businesses will still require physical offices post-pandemic, and that this was not the ‘wfh revolution’ that was heralded in 2020.

‘The commute can give be valuable ‘me’ time’ 

‘For many, a surprising bonus will be the return of the commute,’ explained Caroline Plumer, psychologist and founder of www.cppclondon.com.

So many people have commented on how they have missed the “me time” this journey provided. With busy personal and professional lives to contend with, the opportunity to read a book, listen to the radio or even meditate as you travel is long overdue. 

‘This doesn’t mean that a return to the workplace won’t have its challenges. When bringing staff back together, employers have to really consider how they reintroduce people back to the office, ensuring teams have the confidence to come back in. 

‘The importance and responsibility that this puts on business leaders is so key, with a focus on bolstering workplace culture needed to make sure workforces do not become divided.’

Vicky Walker, Director of Human Resources at Westfield Health, agreed: ‘Being in the workplace is as much about the moments when you’re not working: the walks at lunchtime, making a cup of tea and bumping into a colleague to talk about last night’s TV that build a company culture. 

‘These are things that don’t appear on a balance sheet, but create a sense of bonding and togetherness that video calls have struggled to replicate.’

‘Being in the office makes us LESS stressed’   

‘Returning to the office can be a good thing for many people as it will help to create a sense of space from one area of life to another, which will overall support underlying stress levels,’ explained Laura Steventon, stress relief and self worth therapist, Advanced Therapy and Coaching (www.laurasteventon.com).

‘For people living alone, it is a very positive move, as it may help to alleviate some sense of loneliness and provide more structure to the day.

‘Returning to the office will mean less screen or telephone time, which is good for posture and physical well-being. Being in the same room with others can help to improve confidence levels and can help you grow as a person through the unconscious signals that your brain picks up on, such as how to act and react, how to have difficult conversations, or make professional small talk as an example.

‘We are innately social beings, being near other people can greatly enhance our overall well-being through creating new connections, having a quick water break to chat and download small items that are on your mind, creating a sense of shared camaraderie and community to which we feel like we belong are all so important for mental wellness.’ 

‘Home workers miss out on networking’

‘Those choosing not to return may miss out,’ said Laura Trendall Morrison, Founder, Gamechanger Consultancy LTD. ‘It’s simple things as we return to normal such as camaraderie and connection. 

‘A possibility is those not returning also miss the opportunities to network and promote their work. It’s important that those people choosing not to return carefully consider their career and promotion strategy, to find ways to maintain social connection and remain visible to their organizations. 

‘I suspect we’ll see future cases and legislation about equality of opportunity in this area, to ensure those who do not feel safe or have medical reasons not to return are not discriminated against.’

‘We are less innovative when we work from home’ 

Helen Tupper, author of The Squiggly Career and host of podcast Squiggly Careers, said: ‘Working together in person creates a sense of connection and belonging that is not easily replicated when we’re working remotely. 

‘We can more easily pick up on people’s emotions and body language and we can see the things that aren’t always said. 

‘These insights help us build meaningful relationships and not just transactional ones connected to our day-to-day work. 

‘And whilst personal productivity goes up when we work remotely, our inventiveness actually goes down. Organisations have seen a drop in innovation since people have been working from home and we’ve not found a virtual solution to respond to it.’

Social interaction: Experts explained dealing with colleagues face-to-face helps teach problem solving and improves interpersonal relationships. Stock image

‘Working in the office boosts productivity’ 

Dannielle Haig, principal business psychologist, at DH Consulting (www.daniellehaig.com), said: ‘By not returning to the office we can miss out on a lot of benefits. Firstly, we are social and communicative beings, and it is good for us to have people to interactive with daily helps to keep our support network broad and helps with our emotional and physical health.

‘Secondly, interacting with colleagues and clients face-to-face helps us bond with our peers and team members, which increases productivity, engagement, and creativity. This makes us and our teams more competitive in the marketplace and aids our wellbeing and sense of accomplishment too!’ 

‘Working from home might be making us MORE sick’ 

‘Did you know that the psychological aspects of social distancing and working from home such as loneliness, stress and anxiety can have an effect on your immune system and actually make you more vulnerable to viruses, colds and infections?,’ asked Hussain Abdeh, clinical director and superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct. 

‘This is because loneliness, stress and anxiety – all mental health issues that are exacerbated by working from home – reduce the bodies’ ability to produce antibodies and effectively fight off infection, making many people more vulnerable to infections and viruses.

‘Research has even found that people who are more socially connected are less susceptible to the common cold!

‘Social distancing and working from home have increased loneliness, stress and anxiety levels within the UK, naturally this will have an impact on the immune system without many people even knowing it.

‘Reduce your stress levels, surround yourself with good friends and work colleagues, have fun and get out there, exercise well and eat more fruit and veg, your immune system will reap the rewards.’ 

‘Mixing with colleagues teaches us how to solve problems’

Pamela Roberts, a psychotherapist based at the Priory’s Hospital in Woking, Surrey, said: ‘In the workplace, ‘connection’ and a sense of belonging to a team or organisation are hugely important. These feelings are hardwired into us as humans. 

‘In the office, there is guidance for staff through shared experiences, and instant access to discussing ideas. There is also a big mix of different personality types – both easy-going colleagues and more challenging ones. Both allow for personal growth. 

‘Home offices are ruining our backs and necks’

‘Very few employees are likely to enjoy the luxury of a purpose-built home office,’ said Elisa Nardi, CEO of Notebook Mentor who has had a 30-year career in human resource management.

‘Instead, people have been perched on uncomfortable chairs, on edges of beds with screens and keyboards at the wrong height or angle. Sooner or later, health and wellbeing will suffer, in fact, there has been a marked rise in back problems since people started working from home. 

‘Many employers are already anticipating a future wave of claims in regard to muscular-skeletal employee health and well-being issues.’   

‘Group work in the office enables people to find ways to solve problems in the presence of each other. Having disagreements, and making mistakes, will all happen within complex teams and environments, but that is how we learn to solve problems and grow as individuals and professionals. 

‘Remote working or segregation can, on the other hand, create more differences and separation, and less instinct to navigate, take risks, negotiate or cooperate.’ 

‘Young employees are missing out by not seeing colleagues at work’ 

Simon Roderick, MD of Fram Search a financial services recruitment firm, said: ‘It’s easy to forget the amount of lifelong friendships that have been formed in the office. 

‘Nobody has missed out on the positive experiences being around colleagues can provide more than young people. My best learning experiences have been watching those more experienced than me, and where do all the small questions go when we’re working at home? 

‘Hybrid is the future, but making friends, learning, and building something with others is the essence of team and that means spending time together. 

‘A regular schedule promotes healthy habits’ 

‘Getting back into a routine can be really good for our overall well-being, especially if we can include healthy habits like walking or going to the gym before or after work,’ explained Dr Robin Hart, co-founder and psychologist at Companion (www.companionapproach.com)

‘That becomes a virtuous circle where we feel better because we’re taking better care of ourselves and our work/life balance.

‘Remote working can be really good for all kinds of people, but there are some downsides to it too. It can be isolating and quite stressful, because you don’t have the same kind of support from your colleagues that you have face to face. You can end up working even harder for longer hours. And lack of visibility can be a problem: you don’t want to be passed over for that project or promotion because you’re not seen in the office very often.

‘I think this is a great opportunity to shape the new normal: there are good things about going into the office and good things about remote working. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the best from both?’  

‘Going back to the office will reignite enthusiasm in our careers’ 

Caroline Plumer, psychologist and founder of www.cppclondon.com , said: ‘Returning to the physical office not only provides us with the social and relational stimulation that most of us have sorely missed since early 2020, but it also provides a great opportunity to get back collaboratively working and learning, which is vital for our confidence as well as our careers. 

‘The office is a place where we can vent to a colleague on a bad day, go for a walk at lunch with a friend or take a moment to laugh together, all of which are great for our stress levels and emotional wellbeing. 

‘Perhaps just as importantly, being in the same space together means we can walk over to a colleague or manager to ask a question face to face and start (re)building bonds, or have a meeting where, by virtue of being in the same room, it’s easier to bounce ideas off each other and feed off of one another’s enthusiasm as we work towards a common goal. 

‘This is likely to give some workers an enjoyment and excitement for their work which may have been lost over the course of the pandemic. There is also the added bonus that visibility in the office is often a key factor in promotions and progression.’

‘Going back to the office expands our comfort zones’ 

Neil Wilkie, relationship therapist, psychotherapist and author of the Relationship Paradigm Series of Books (www.relationshipparadigm.com), said: ‘Remote working has kept the world ticking over but Zoom and telephone calls are a poor substitute for raw, messy human interaction, where we can touch, smell and feel. 

‘We are social animals, and we need healthy interaction with others outside of our immediate family.

‘Work is often the epicentre of people’s worlds outside of the home and as well as giving them money, purpose, status and fulfilment, it gives them social contact. It also gets people out of the house and allows them to experience a bigger picture and expand their comfort zone, whereas staying in one safe place shrinks this.’

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