Many employees can’t escape the pressures of work by going home. They’re already home. All the time. And now … they might suffer burnout.
Some are stressed about work. Some are sick of their homes. Most are overwhelmed by everything that’s happened in the last several months.
It’s serious, too: About 90% of employees said they’ve experienced moderate to extreme stress since they started working from home, a study by Ginger, an on-demand mental health care provider, found. Nearly 70% said it’s been the most stressful time of their professional careers.
Can HR leaders and frontline managers possibly help employees overcome – or avoid – burnout?
Yes. In fact, you must help them because about two-thirds of employees say they lose at least an hour of productivity each day because they feel isolated and stressed.
What has them stressed
Employees are over-stressed for a variety of issues that came with COVID-19. But they also feel it from issues that have spilled over from the days in the office.
A recent poll by G&S Business Communications found the top stressors are:
- Setting up and handling issues with technology
- Managing time effectively
- Communicating with colleagues
- Juggling responsibilities for work and family, and
- Getting enough exercise.
Other issues include:
- Lack of structure leading to working too many or too few hours
- Feelings of isolation
- Too many distractions and interruptions, and
- Too much screen time.
Watch for the signs
Employees might admit they have struggles, but many aren’t as good at identifying signs they’re overwhelmed, over-stressed or in full-on burnout.
Leaders will want to keep an eye out for early signs and step in as quickly as possible to help employees.
Here are the top 10 signs employees are burned out:
- Struggles to concentrate and focus
- Recurring sickness
- Missed deadlines
- Lack of motivation
- Cynicism toward the job, colleagues, the company and their abilities
- Lower quality of work
- Indifference about not performing up to regular standards
- Conflict with colleagues and/or boss
- Lack of participation and engagement in meetings, and
- Opting out of anything that’s voluntary or optional.
How leaders can help
Whether you identify employees who suffer burnout or employees recognize their issues and come to you for help, try these six tactics to stay ahead of or fix burnout.
1. Create and respect boundaries
The boundaries between work and life are incredibly blurred for people new to working from home. It’s easy for employees to get caught in the trap of doing “one more quick thing” before they call it a day or week. It’s even tougher to walk away when the boss asks for that quick thing.
Remind employees to work the same or similar schedule they did onsite. Encourage them to make a hard break at the end of the day, perhaps by setting the next-day’s agenda or clearing email. Then shut down and don’t go back to it.
Leaders need to stick hard to the boundaries, too. Don’t send messages or make calls to employees outside of regular hours.
2. Encourage healthy breaks
Remind employees it’s important to take regular breaks throughout the day to refresh, reboot and stay ahead of burnout.
They might need to set alarms to get up, step outside, take a quick, brisk walk.
3. Make it OK to say ‘No’
Employees working remotely sometimes feel the need to do more to impress the boss so they’re never out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
Bosses want to make employee expectations clear so everyone can perform at the right level without feeling an unnecessary guilt to do more. Review goals and objectives regularly. Ask employees how they think they can accomplish everything and find out if they need new or different resources.
If it sounds like they’re taking on too much, or creating unrealistic goals for themselves, work on alternative approaches to the work.
4. Emphasize results, not hours
As much as possible, focus on work results, not the hours worked. Some people can get more done in a concentrated hour than others can get done in a full day.
If employees don’t need to be available to respond (to customers, colleagues or the boss) during specific hours, give them some flexibility in the hours and time frame they spend at their desk, as long as their results are as great as – or better than – ever.
Micro-managing remote employees will add to stress and burnout. On the other hand, sending a few emails each week with expectations will create a disconnected experience that has the same negative effects.
Keep in frequent contact with a variety of tools – virtual meetings at least weekly, email check-ins and phone calls to see how things are and to offer resources. Even better, help employees connect with each other so they can have similar stress-relieving conversations they might have onsite.
Some fun ideas for the informal connecting:
- Host a talent show. Some companies have invited employees and their family members to share their talents in Zoom meetings. Mailroom bands perform, kids sing, CFOs tell jokes, accountants play the piano, etc.
- Get them moving. A regional Girl Scout executive got her team to walk the distance equivalent from their offices in Illinois to the organization’s birthplace in Savanna, GA. They all walked alone and tracked their individual miles until the group reached the 2,000 miles.
- Continue long-standing traditions, too. The executive team at SimplePractice carried on Monthly Birthday Happy Hours by hosting weekly virtual Friday happy hours. They also continued offering yoga and other wellness opportunities through free online tools to their homebound employees.
6. Recognize, reward for the times
Employees still need to feel appreciated – perhaps even more – when they aren’t working together. Take time in virtual meetings to recognize employees’ efforts and accomplishments. Ask them to share great things they’ve experienced in their personal lives, too.
When you give rewards, make sure they fit the circumstances. For instance, coffee shop gift cards won’t do employees good if they’re working from home or the shop isn’t open. But cards for online retailers might be more appropriate.