Got that back-to-school feeling? UK workers feel the buzz ahead of mass office return

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As businesses in the UK prepare to open their office doors en masse in the first week of September, new research reveals that office workers have got that back-to-school excitement and are feeling largely positive about the transition.

Global recruitment specialists, Michael Page, questioned over 2,000 UK office workers on their attitudes to returning to the office and found that after eighteen months at home, they’re excited to spend more time in the office with their colleagues. Reminiscent of the first day back at school, almost three in ten (28%) said that they had picked out their outfit and packed their bag ahead of their first day back in the office.

When asked about their feelings around returning, workers listed happy (26%) and excited (22%) among the top emotions. However, uncertainty remains for some, with over a quarter (27%) feeling apprehensive about the transition back towards a more traditional office day. Fueling the worry are concerns over social interactions, with 15% saying they feel awkward about returning to the office, and a fifth (19%) feeling awkward about seeing their colleagues again after a long period of being apart.

Despite this, the research shows that the prospect of workers socialising in person is behind the largely positive attitude. A third of respondents (33%) said they have missed office friendships, with this number rising to 37% among women. Office workers are also looking forward to office small talk, with a quarter citing this as something they’ve missed. Lunch with colleagues is another perk of office life that employees are excited about, with a quarter (23%) saying they have missed the midday trips out for lunch.

In spite of the physical separation, the research shows that eighteen months of working together virtually has actually deepened our relationships with colleagues. Two in five (43%) say they feel closer to their colleagues now than prior to the pandemic and nearly half (47%) agree that they are more empathetic. The same number agree they know more about each other’s personal lives, suggesting there are strong foundations for positive relationships to flourish when returning to the office.

While respondents are eager to reconnect with work friends, the research highlights how the pandemic has made workers more introspective about their priorities in life, with many even considering changing jobs. When thinking about leaving their current company, almost a quarter (23%) cited wanting a fresh challenge as the most important reason. Highlighting a shift in priorities, over a fifth (21%) say that they will never work for a company that doesn’t embrace flexible working, while 19% want their next job to allow them to work from anywhere in the world.

Further underlining the shift in priorities, the pandemic may help to create a nation of entrepreneurs, with one in six (16%) workers saying ideally their next job will be self-employed. Almost a quarter (23%) have picked up a new hobby, while a fifth (21%) have either started or increased the amount of exercise they do, highlighting a trend of workers making more time for themselves.

Psychologist, Dr. Linda Popadopolous said: “Humans are naturally social creatures, so it’s no surprise that so many of us are excited to return to the office. It’s encouraging to see that attitudes are positive towards the return but as is clear from the research, there is still a sense of anxiety among office workers. However, this may not be all as it seems as many who cited anxiety also cited other positive emotions.

“There is a sense of nervous energy among the workforce who are juggling their desire for greater social contact with habits from eighteen months of isolation. As we settle into our new routines it’s important that workers take the time to re-adjust and aren’t hard on themselves if they’re finding the influx of in-person socialising overwhelming.”

Nick Kirk, UK MD at Michael Page added: “It’s great to see people feeling positive about returning to the office. Many of us have sorely missed the social side of work, and companies may see a productivity boom in September as employees return motivated and re-energised by their colleagues. However, we are seeing workers’ priorities change meaning some will inevitably be looking for a new challenge.

“Workers have reevaluated what they want from employment, with the pandemic shining a spotlight on issues they may not have noticed before. Many now have different priorities, such as pursuing hobbies or interests outside of work, or being closer to family. Bosses will need to be willing to have open and honest conversations with their staff around expectations in order to keep hold of talent, while those looking to hire should consider how best to attract and motivate new recruits.”

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