This undated photo provided by Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition shows the conference and workspace at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition in Itasca, Ill. Francine Yoon, a 24-year-old food scientist at Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition NA has been working mostly in person since the pandemic, including at her current job which she started last fall. But moving in last year with her older parents, both in their early 60s, led to a heightened level of anxiety as she fears passing the virus on to them.

Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition via AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Last summer, Julio Carmona began weaning himself off an all-remote work schedule by showing up at the office once a week.

The new hybrid schedule of his job at a state agency in Stratford, Connecticut still allowed him to spend time cooking dinner for his family and taking his teenage daughter to basketball.

But over the next few months, he faces the likelihood of more mandatory days at the office. And that creates stress for the father of three.

Carmona, 37, whose father died of COVD-19 last year, worries about contracting the virus, but he also checks off a list of other anxieties: rising lunch and gas costs, fees custody of her newborn and her struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“Working from home has been a lot less stressful when it comes to work-life balance,” said Carmona, who works in finance at the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. “You are more productive because there are far fewer distractions.”

As more companies mandate a return to the office, workers are having to readapt to pre-pandemic rituals like long commutes, juggling childcare and physically interacting with co-workers. But those routines got tougher two years later. Spending more time with colleagues could increase exposure to the coronavirus, for example, while inflation has increased lunch and travel costs.

Among workers who were remote and returned at least one day a week in person, more say things in general have gotten better rather than worse and that they have been more productive rather than less, a poll from April from The Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center shows. But the stress level of these workers is high.

Overall, among employed adults, the April AP-NORC poll shows 16% say they work remotely, 13% work both remotely and in person, and 72% say they only work online. nobody.

Thirty-nine percent of employees who had worked from home but have returned to the office say the way things are generally improved since returning to the workplace in person, while 23% say the things got worse; 38% say things have stayed the same. Forty-five percent say the amount of work done has improved, while 18% say it has deteriorated.

But 41% of returning workers say their level of stress has gotten worse; 22% say it has improved and 37% say it has not changed.

Even workers who have been in person throughout the pandemic are more negative than positive about how the pandemic has impacted their working lives. Thirty-five percent say the way things are in general has gotten worse, while 20% say it has gotten better. Fifty percent say their stress got worse, while only 11% say it got better; 39% say there is no difference.

At least half of in-person workers say balancing responsibilities, potential exposure to COVID at work, commuting and social interactions are sources of stress. But less than a third describe these sources of stress as “major”.

People with children were more likely to say their return had a negative effect, in part due to concerns about protecting their families from COVID and maintaining a better work-life balance. Most said it could help alleviate stress if their employer offered more flexible work options and workplace safety precautions against the virus. But for some workers, a physical return – in any form – will be difficult to manage.

“A lot of people have gotten used to working from home. It’s been two years,” said Jessica Edwards, national director of strategic alliances and development at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a US-based advocacy group. “For companies, it’s about prioritizing mental health and being communicative about it. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask their employees how they’re really doing.”

Companies like Vanguard are now developing virtual wellness workshops that started at or before the start of the pandemic. They are also extending the benefits to include meditation apps and virtual therapy. Meanwhile, Target, which hasn’t set a mandatory return, is giving teams the option to adjust meeting times earlier or later in the day to accommodate employee schedules.

A lot is at stake. Estimates show that untreated mental illness can cost businesses up to $300 billion a year, largely due to impacts on productivity, absenteeism, and increased medical and disability, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Russ Glass, CEO of online mental health and wellness platform Headspace Health, said he’s seen a fourfold increase in the use of behavioral health coaching and a fivefold increase in clinical services like therapy and psychiatric help during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic days. With apps like Ginger and Headspace, the company serves more than 100 million people and 3,500 businesses. Among the main concerns: anxiety about contracting COVID-19 and difficulties in balancing work and private life.

“We haven’t seen it diminish. That level of care just stayed high,” Glass said.

The constant wave of new virus outbreaks did not help.

Francine Yoon, a 24-year-old food scientist at Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition North America in Itasca, Illinois, has been working mostly in person since the pandemic, including at her current job which she started last fall. Yoon said his company has helped ease anxiety by doing things like creating empty meeting rooms and offices to create more distance for those who feel any form of anxiety about being away. proximity to colleagues.

But moving in last year with her older parents, both in their early 60s, led to a heightened level of anxiety as she fears passing the virus on to them. She said each wave of new cases creates some anxiety.

“When the cases are low, I feel comfortable and confident that I’m fine and will be fine,” she said. “When power surges happen, I can’t help but get cautious.”

As for Carmona, he is trying to reduce his stress and plans to participate in his office’s online meditation sessions. He is also considering carpooling to reduce gas costs.

“I’m one of those people who takes it day by day,” he said. “You have to try to keep your stress levels balanced because you’re going to be running your brain thinking about things that could go haywire.”

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