The pandemic changed everything about the way we work. Remote work enabled people and businesses to carry on, but burnout appears to be the new epidemic. As the lines blurred between work and life, workers have struggled to push the done button on work at the end of the day resulting in increased cases of burnout.
While employees working from home may not be expected to respond at all hours of the day and night, notifications of emails and slack messages coming through aren’t easy to find the discipline to ignore.
Many remote employees report a lack of sleep, high-stress levels, and pressure from their families to make time for them. Parents can feel especially torn by guilt when trying to balance their day-to-day duties with their kids around.
If you are feeling any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Unfortunately, the situation is not sustainable. Suppose you continue along this path without taking action to change them. In that case, you are risking your mental health and putting yourself at risk for hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, inflammation, and other stress-related syndromes.
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Employers have a critical role to play in the struggle to prevent or mitigate employee burnout. Strong leadership is vital. You must lead with empathy—combined with a few key strategies to ensure you recognize the signs of burnout before they become bigger problems.
It is helpful to view burnout as a workplace issue rather than a people issue. Before the pandemic, many managers tended to look at employee output as the only KPI worth measuring. Today, strong leaders realize the importance of good mental health, work-life balance, and healthy boundaries.
Happy employees tend to stick around. But if burnout sets in, don’t count on it. No company today can afford to lose the employees they have. Talent is elusive. Even before the pandemic, the landscape was highly competitive, forcing employers and hiring managers to get creative about their benefits packages. Now, it’s about keeping the people you have.
Unfortunately, there is no strict formula for how to accomplish this, but we have learned a few things in the past couple of years. That’s not to say that these issues did not exist before March 2020, but sharing a common experience as monumental as we have certainly put things in perspective.
We know that every individual has different needs and concerns. Refusing to acknowledge this is like walking with blinders on. If leaders genuinely want to be part of the solution and heal the unhealthy work-life balance habits employees have adopted, they need to shape a culture that works for both employees and the organization.
Empathetic leadership can still be strong leadership. Connecting with your team, understanding what they’re going through, and putting their needs first leads to a happier workforce.
For example, no employee should be expected to work through the night or weekend. Everybody deserves a backup—and to know that someone has their back in case they have to take some time for themselves. Faced with the pressure to consistently perform, produce, and step up, most employees will eventually leave.
Employees need to feel valued, and pushing them to their limits will not accomplish that. If you remove the strict boundaries of workdays and hours, you provide them with a level of autonomy that allows them to step back and recharge while still getting their work done. It is challenging for some managers to relinquish control in that way, but the “we’ve always done it that way” attitude simply does not work anymore. Personal priorities change quickly, and it’s critical to recognize this and make people the priority. When employees feel seen and heard, they are more likely to stay.
We’re in the midst of a work-life revolution. In the pre-pandemic world, there was a lot of talk about work-life balance, but when faced with such monumental changes, we soon realized what was missing.
We rediscovered our lives and our families and reacquainted ourselves with things we used to love to do. It turns out we still enjoyed them. As we returned to work, the balance shifted from work-life to life-work, and there was no going back. Wellbeing and happiness were suddenly achievable, despite the global madness that drove us from the office in the first place.
If you posed this scenario to an employee or manager pre-Covid, it would have been unfathomable to think it would work. Two-plus years in, we now know that a flexible work environment actually enhances productivity, reduces business costs, and does not significantly alter the product.
The Great Resignation underscored the movement. Employees realized that work-life balance was an illusion. In the absence of flexibility, empathy from leadership, or options to deal with personal concerns as they arose, people chose life, as work was no longer the be-all-end-all of existence.
We are dealing with a global talent shortage. It’s not that the talent has disappeared; we just don’t find it in the same places as before. Providing flexible work options expands your ability to attract high-performing employees that want to work but won’t compromise their quality of life.
Women are 32% less likely to quit their jobs if they can work remotely. Being present for children and loved ones is job one. Though women want to work, the constraints of a rigid traditional workweek force them to prioritize. Remote or hybrid work options are beneficial for both employer and employee. The company has access to qualified, motivated, self-starting employees, and women can be fulfilled at work without sacrificing the life they love.
The idea of life-work is not new. Clinical psychologist Fredrick Herzberg posited a theory called dual-factor motivation-hygiene, a concept that could be applied to all working environments.
His research found that humans have two sets of needs: low-level needs to avoid pain and deprivation (hygiene factors, or those involving the work environment, compensation, and status), and a high-level need for psychological growth (motivational factors, or those involving enrichment, recognition, and growth). The study concluded that hygiene factors do not result in job satisfaction, although in their absence, dissatisfaction can ensue.
Job enrichment extended the theory, and Herzberg saw this as something that should be built into the job by design. These factors included self-scheduling, accountability, and control of resources—all components of a flexible work environment. Interestingly, his findings were published in 1959 in The Motivation to Work.
As we move forward into the next era of work and workspace, it should be a comfort to know that the answers were there all along.
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