Returning to the Office and Millennials’ Mental Health: A Conversation with Mental Health Therapist, Jason Phillips, LCSW

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By: Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ

The story below is a part of  YMyHealth’s Making a Healthy Office Comeback series. As more millennials return to the office or transition to hybrid work schedules in 2022, we will be highlighting the concerns and health challenges Generation Y tells us they are facing and feature advice from millennial experts on how to maintain your healthy habits.

What’s one thing that most millennials have in common?

Well, if you talk to most millennials regardless of their line of work, the thread most of us share is that we are adaptable to change. Good thing that we are, as that’s what has gotten us through all the changes the pandemic has brought our way.

But many of us have gotten used to doing our work from almost anywhere and it has helped solve a lot of problems that we would face working in an office. While we are adaptable, we can’t go back to the way things were in our work lives for the very fact that doing so was negatively impacting our mental health. And no doubt that after living with the pandemic’s challenges, asking us to do so could be detrimental to our psyches.

I spoke with fellow millennial Jason Phillips, LCSW, to learn what we—millennial employees—can do to take charge of the core things that concern us about getting through the day in an actual office.  The mental health therapist and life coach shares his advice on handling difficult co-workers, losing our flexibility, and concerns about catching COVID-19.  

YMyHealth: What concerns have your millennial clients shared about transitioning to hybrid work schedules or returning to the office full time?

Jason Phillips, LCWS, is a 37-year-old mental health therapist and life coach. He runs his own private practice, Peace & Prosperity Coaching, where he helps he uses evidence-based treatments to help clients achieve success in the areas of mental health and wellness.

Jason Phillips: My clients have expressed concerns about losing control of their work environment and the flexibility they have working remotely. At the office, they worry about two main things: 1) Engaging with difficult co-workers who are not respectful of their time or them, but who they’ve been able to deal with by working from home away from them, and 2) Contracting COVID-19 at the office or during their commute to it.

YMyHealth: Yes, it’s true that working from home has given us multiple advantages when it comes to dealing with challenging co-workers. What are your recommendations for how to engage with these difficult co-workers or ones who are not respectful of our time once we are back to working in the same office?

Jason Phillips: My clients tell me that they need their co-workers to respect boundaries. So, we go over certain communications’ techniques so that they can set their boundaries without feeling like they are doing something wrong.

Our conversations also are about helping my clients to answer these questions: “How do you engage with these co-workers? How do you say, ‘No, I’m busy; I can’t take on this project.’? How do you cut conversations short without feeling like you’re not being disrespectful or antisocial?”

YMyHealth: One of the things that worries millennials most in transitioning back to the office is loss of control. How do we tackle the challenge of losing control of our work environments?

Jason Phillips: It boils down to being able to be assertive and not so passive where you overwhelm yourself because you don’t want to upset your boss or colleagues.

It also comes down to prioritizing. You may have 15 things that you do in your job, but there may be three or four that you really have to get done. You need to ask yourself this question and answer it: “How can I prioritize those things and put some of those other things on the back burner, and not stress myself out about them?”

YMyHealth: COVID-19 brings a whole other level of anxiety about going back to the office. Everyone has kept different precautions and has had different limitations in living their lives over the past two-plus years. How are you guiding clients to handle these challenges on their own and to address their concerns with their employers?

Jason Phillips: The main thing is sticking to the facts and the intention.

If you are concerned about whether or not people are going to wear their masks, or if people are vaccinated or not, first, make sure you are doing what you can do to make sure you are controlling your space and your area. Second, when you communicate your concerns to your leadership do so in a manner where you are letting them know this is not personal, it’s strictly coming from a health and safety standpoint.

People can hear that better as opposed to wanting to say, “Well I’m not comfortable because I don’t like to do so and so.” When you stick to the intention and the facts about your concerns about safety, they are more likely to be heard and validated.

To learn more about the mental health challenges millennials have been facing throughout the pandemic, and Jason’s strategies to overcome them, visit our Making a Healthy Comeback page.

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