Ever since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote work, ‘burnout’ has become a buzzword for many professionals. Put simply, burnout is a state of complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion which leaves a person unable to do the simple day-to-day tasks, let alone work to their full potential. While the whole notion of burnout has been plaguing professionals across the globe for a long time, a spike came along with Covid-19. More and more individuals started identifying signs of burnout with managing work and home all at once, coupled with the stress caused by the spread of the virus, economic and health crisis as well as episodes of social isolation. Put together, each one of these has acted as a stressor, contributing to the high levels of burnout since the pandemic broke and the world went virtual.
According to a study by Monster, 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home. What is even more shocking is that, despite work burnout, the majority (59%) are taking less time off than they normally would, and 42% of those still working. With the economy and the job market marked by ambiguity and uncertainty, professionals are choosing burnout in the fear of losing their jobs.
What does work from home burnout look like?
Frequently, people dismiss burnout as daily stress of work and do not try to intervene to make things better. From a manager’s perspective, understanding if an employee is on the verge of burnout may not be the easiest task. However, there are certain signs that managers can look out for and trigger immediate intervention to prevent situations from going south. To help managers be aware of the wellness of their team members, we have created a list of common signs to look out for that might point towards burnout:
- Alienation and disengagement: Professionals on the verge of complete exhaustion tend to distance themselves from others and rarely engage with anyone at work. Managers must be on the lookout for any unusual or reduced patterns of engagement. This could be felt by noticing delay in responses, lack of energy and enthusiasm, unwillingness to participate in collective brainstorming, etc.
- Increase in number of sick days: Since burnout is marked by exhaustion, it is natural for team members to face physical symptoms like headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue etc. This invariably will lead to a greater number of sick days to deal with the physical signs. While a regular pattern of time off is good and healthy, team members requesting for an unusually higher number of sick days to deal with headaches, stomach issues etc. might need some attention.
- Reduced performance: As direct reports, managers are well aware of the calibre, capabilities and level of performance of all their team members. It is true that minor fluctuations in performance and productivity are common, natural and normal. However, if the performance and productivity go down more than the general threshold, it might be a sign of burnout and deserves immediate intervention.
In addition, lack of concentration, perpetual tiredness, irritability with co-workers, etc. are some signs that managers must constantly lookout for. In case there are any such signs, managers must immediately intervene and communicate with the team member in question. It is important to connect in a safe and supportive environment with empathy to help him or her create a plan of action and restore wellness and wellbeing.
Preventing work from home burnout: A manager’s playbook
While remote work burnout is becoming increasingly common, there are many forward looking managers that are flattening this curve. Based on industry benchmarks, we have below a list of practices that managers can adopt to prevent work from home burnout before it lays its foundation:
- Accept the problem: Managers need to begin with accepting that remote work burnout is a real problem. Simply dismissing it as the inability of some professionals to take work stress and pressure creates a toxic work culture. Therefore, managers should educate themselves about what work from home burnout typically means, what might trigger it, how to prevent it and how to deal with it if it occurs. Organizations can play an integral role by investing in mindfulness programs to help managers develop the right competencies to acknowledge the problem and deal in an empathetic manner. Once managers begin acknowledging that remote work burnout is real, it will encourage team members to better share their concerns and catch the challenges in their roots.
- Reduce Zoom fatigue: As work went remote, so did the meetings. Naturally, Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing platforms became the go-to-solution for any form of meeting or interaction. While initially, synch tools were considered highly productive, sometimes even more than physical meetings, a fatigue has now begun to set in. Simply because a meeting tool is at one’s disposal, doesn’t mean there is a need to use it every now and then. There are several conversations which can be a simple mail, message or a voice call. Converting them into a video call may not be wise. To prevent this burnout, managers must juggle between different forms of communication ideal for different situations. At the same time, the total number of meetings should also be reduced to reduce the disruptions during the day.
- Mind the workload and mails: Managers need to be cognizant of the fact that just because employees are at home and are not going out a lot doesn’t indicate that the workload can be increased exponentially. At the same time, internal emails for any purpose need not keep piling up just for the sake of it. Managers need to be mindful of the amount of workload any employee can do justice to and make sure that the work delegated to them doesn’t fall out beyond that threshold. Undoubtedly, there will be days when work will be more. However, that cannot become a pattern. Pushing employees to work 12-14 hours everyday with mails every other minute can cause exhaustion at all levels.
- Encourage boundaries: The whole remote work or working from home culture has led to a blurring of the boundaries between work and life. Starting from calls and emails at odd hours to expecting employees to pull all-nighters to get a presentation out, the boundaries where work ends are no longer visible. Managers on a mission to prevent burnout of their team members need to reinstate and respect these boundaries. Everyday there should be a dedicated time when team members must be off the clock, unless there is something urgent or planned in advance. Additionally, weekends and other off time should be sacred and beyond work purview. Finally, managers may encourage the team members to take some time off now and then, just to relax, rejuvenate and destress.
- Offer flexibility and control: While professionals have been working from home for quite some time now, there are still many things that they need to manage at home while working. Therefore, some flexibility and the ability to control their work and priorities must rest with employees. Managers should step away from micromanaging every task to the last minute. Undoubtedly, building a culture of accountability and responsibility is important. However, empowering employees to craft their own schedule during the day and take breaks when they need to, can prevent burnout because employees don’t feel that they are constantly under the radar.
Building the right managerial leadership to prevent burnout
Preventing remote work burnout is not something that happens with one click. It requires managers who are empathetic with strong interpersonal and communication skills who actually care about the wellbeing of their team members. Here, organizations can partner with platforms like SuperBeings to offer managers with some subtle behavioural nudges based on real time data to help them lead their teams effectively and promote a culture of wellness and wellbeing.