Don’t believe a return-to-office means a return-to-normal. Employees are still stressed, and burnout isn’t going away.
“While many employees have been inoculated against COVID-19, they are not protected from exhaustion, burnout and the additional stress of returning to the office,” says Dr. Andrew Shatté, chief knowledge officer and co-founder at meQuilibrium.
Sure, some employees are glad to get back to work. But many are still overwhelmed. They have more responsibilities at home, the same work stress and COVID-related fears.
“The physical and mental ramifications of the pandemic may linger,” says Shatté.
But HR pros and front-line managers can help employees handle stressors and stay ahead of burnout.
Here are four ideas:
1. Help build resilience
“Resilience is like a muscle. It can be strengthened and weakened,” says Shatté. “Those with high resilience are less likely to suffer burnout from increased work stress and anxiety, and less likely to quit their job.”
So it pays to help employees build resilience. In fact, one study found companies that offered a resilience program almost immediately increased productivity.
With resilience, employees tend to adapt and recover quickly after stress, adversity or tragedy.
A few ways to help:
- Connect. Give employees time and resources to build relationships. The support they gain through working together professionally and knowing each other personally helps them get through difficult times.
- Share meaning. Make sure employees know the meaning behind their work. Talk about the positive effects they have on the company, customers and community so they see their purpose.
- Teach them to plan, review. Help employees anticipate problems and figure out what needs to be done. Emphasize the need to make plans so they can immediately take action when something goes awry. Encourage employees to review what went well, and why, so they’re prepared for other stressors and setbacks.
2. Talk about problems
If employees know about change well before it happens, they’re more likely to accept and adapt.
Sometimes that means you need to tell employees about issues that require change. Problem is, many leaders don’t want to expose problems.
But you don’t want to underestimate employees: If they know about potential issues, they might be able to help solve them.
What’s more, if you involve them in root cause analysis and problem resolution, you can help them develop better problem-solving skills, which they can use in their individual jobs and life.
3. Encourage time off
It’s traditional vacation season, and employees – who are already stressed – aren’t taking off time.
“Some sectors are struggling to hire workers, putting even more pressure on existing employees,” says Regina Ihrke, Well-being Leader, North America at Willis Towers Watson. “The volume of work is rising and without a corresponding increase in new workers, the current workforce is under pressure because of limited capacity to spread the work more effectively.”
Leaders need to set the standard. Take vacation seriously. Don’t send or expect email. Disconnect. Then, when you’re back, talk about the benefits of getting away so employees feel comfortable disconnecting, too.
4. Continue to focus on well-being
Bottom line, employees still need to address their total well-being so they can avoid work burnout.
Obviously, HR and front-line managers can’t force employees to use the tools and resources you offer. But the more you promote what’s available, and the easier it all is to access, the more likely employees will use what can help.
Try a regular campaign to promote tools such as telehealth, counseling services, exercise and meditation options. Plus, you might promote partnerships and opportunities to make work easier – such as help with care for pets and children, commuting and meals.