Yes, lockdown will end eventually. Follow these simple tips to physically and mentally prepare to get back to business as usual. Those fortunate enough to weather the storm will pack up their laptops and return to the office. But, what’s that? You’ve let yourself go a wee bit? And you’re worried about how to be a professional person again — in mind and body? You’ve probably read blogs or seen funny videos about all of this — but here are some evidenced-based tips from business management research to help you start training for the big day.
Ditch the workout gear
If you’ve been socially distancing yourself from trousers that zip up or a shirt with buttons for six weeks or more, it’s time to get reacquainted. See which pants still fit, which shirts are stainfree, and plan your back-to-work wardrobe. “Dressing for success”, as cheesy as the saying is, is a real thing. One of our favourite labour economics papers shows that spending money on clothes and cosmetics returns about 10% of expenditure in terms of higher earnings. Does primping pay? That’s not us asking, it’s the subtitle of the article, which is clearly now your favourite labour economics paper, too. Bottom line: Ditch that comfy T-shirt, start dressing like a professional again and watch your salary climb.
There’s also evidence that wearing attractive clothes lifts our mood and boosts our confidence. Wearing business attire has been linked to better abstract thinking, which is key to creativity and long-term strategising. These effects are due to enhanced feelings of power — something you rarely get from stretchy pants and stained shirts.
Firm up the physique
Your fitness and eating plans were no doubt quickly forgotten under the lockdown. No jogging under level 5, plus your newfound penchant for baking, may have done a number on the old bod. Well, dust off your takkies and get back to it. In the workplace, attractiveness pays. Hundreds of studies have shown that attractive people are more likely to get jobs, keep jobs, get promoted, and get the best work assignments. Sadly, on the other hand, size matters. Stereotypes against the obese affect all aspects of employment, including hiring, disciplinary actions, promotions and salaries.
Work on your willpower
Are you turning off your video to slide out of virtual meetings to grab a snack whenever the mood strikes? Are you a pro at muting to strategically crunch crisps? Back in the real world, abandoning a meeting to graze in the office kitchen is a no-no. You just wouldn’t do it. Order and dependability, two facets of the personality trait conscientiousness, will take you far. In fact, being a rules-follower predicts high performance ratings. Stop eating between meals and clean up your act.
Tune up your social skills
It’s been easy to become a hermit while working from home (WFH). WFH can make some of us lonely and irritable. Research shows that remote workers experience significantly more mental health symptoms than office workers. Hours of Zoom calls can make even the bubbliest socialites crave some alone time. If you’ve lost your charm, train yourself to find it again. Charisma — that is, being outgoing and engaging — leads to good things for your career, including increased income and more promotions. Plus, followers view you as a good leader. Start shining those social skills and think about how to strike up that office small talk again.
Set your alarm
Many of us are sleeping more. What else do we really have to do? And others of us are getting fewer zzzs, even as we pick up more kgs. For most, sleep has become erratic, thanks to the occasional Netflix binge. But, you say, a lot of influential people throughout history slept only four or five hours a night: Thomas Edison, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Martha Stewart. Are you Martha Stewart? No. It’s time to get back on a schedule and get some high-quality shuteye. Luckily for us, the long lockdown means we’re all out of booze, because alcohol impairs sleep quality. (You’re welcome, police minister Bheki Cele.) The good news is that time spent with family has a strong positive impact on good sleep. The lockdown has certainly helped reduce booze and increase family time.
However we manage to get our zzzs, management research clearly links sleep with better job performance, job engagement, and positive mood. It even makes us feel less like quitting our jobs. Yes, lockdown will end eventually. Yes, we may have let ourselves go a bit. Now we have some training to do. Getting in shape physically but also mentally will make that transition back to the office smoother. It may even have some career bonuses, too. Ready … steady … get back to work.
This article was first published in the Sunday Times on 24 May 2020.