Employers are protecting employees’ health and safety from COVID-19 by requiring or encouraging work from home, but employers should also be aware that this arrangement may pose an unintended consequence: employee burnout. Employers may be wondering how to spot and address this burnout before it leads to greater issues. Here are some tips for employers to consider.
People are working, meeting longer
A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic coincides with lengthened of the average workday by 48.5 minutes based on employees’ first activity to their last activity of the day. The study further showed the number of meetings have increased by 13 percent, though the duration of meetings decreased.
This study may not be surprising to many employers, who were required to have their employees telework under stay-at-home orders or who did so voluntarily as a safety measure to protect the workforce. With the shift from work to home, employees need more connection to the workplace through virtual meetings, phone conferences, and email. They also now have ready access to work at any time. This means they can start and end each and every day by checking emails or finishing up other work. Though there may be a Netflix show, a dog walk, and an extra-long lunch thrown in that daily routine, the routine is nonetheless a constant connectivity to work. Smartphones started this trend, but COVID-19 forced it.
Many employers may not have been prepared to carry on their business with some, most, or all employees working from home. Equally so, employees may not have been prepared on how to efficiently and effectively work from home, especially if their jobs did not previously allow telework. These employees may be at risk for burning out under the weight of the longer workdays, increased meetings, and inability to shut off and walk away from work when it is staring you in the face at home.
What is an employer to do?
Encourage the “harmony,” not “balance”
To have “work-life balance” implies that work life and home life are 50/50, equally split down the middle and employees do a balancing act to keep them both afloat. That’s just not the case. They were never equally split before this pandemic, they are certainly not equally split during this pandemic, and they inevitably will not be equally split after this pandemic has passed.
“Balance” is not feasible; “harmony” is attainable. Work-life harmony means work life and home life interact with each other in a way that you can be engaged in one without harming the other. There is no exact science on how to attain work-life harmony, but a good starting point is for employers to encourage employees to actively disconnect from work after working hours:
- Step away from the computer.
- Turn off work email notifications during off-hours.
- Take time to not be “at work.”
- Enjoy doing other hobbies or maybe just enjoy doing nothing at all.
Employees working from home may find it incredibly difficult to really disconnect when they work where they live and live where they work. But, logging off, both physically and mentally, are important to reach this harmony.
Show appreciation of your staff
The isolation of working from home may be difficult for some employees, who enjoy coming into the office as an escape from being at home. Some may also enjoy working around other co-workers, who provide an escape from the stressors of work itself. While employers may not be able to combat this isolation by physically bringing people together into the office at this point, an act of gratitude may help to show your employees that you appreciate their work during these trying times and consider them a valuable part of your team, even if from afar:
- Schedule a Zoom “happy hour” for your team.
- Send a “thank you” note or basket of goodies to their house.
- Provide an extra PTO day or two to encourage them to step away from work and de-stress with their favorite activity.
A small act of appreciation apart from a constant connected environment may help to brighten employees’ spirits and keep their drive.
Know the signs and address them promptly
Recognizing burnout in employees can be difficult, even if an in-person setting. Managers and supervisors should be trained in preventing and spotting employee burnout as soon as possible in order to address it and (hopefully) correct it:
- Communicate work expectations clearly to employees so that they know when the workday should start and stop.
- Schedule time with your team to understand their workload.
- Take time to discuss what is going well working from home and what is not.
- Ask your employees for feedback on the work-from-home arrangement.
It is important for managers and supervisors to understand not only how the work is going, but how the employee is doing, as well.
Working-from-home may be new territory for a lot of employers and employees. So may be the employee burnout resulting from longer days and more meetings when working from home. Employers should take time to recognize whether employee burnout is affecting their workforce and invest valuable resources in addressing it to keep a healthy workforce, both in and out of the office.
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