Employee burnout was a cause for concern even before the pandemic, as growing numbers of workers reported suffering from job burnout between 2016 and 2019. Indeed, burnout was becoming such a persistent problem that in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added burnout to the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases.
Those working from home before the pandemic were typically less likely to experience burnout. However, with 42% of the US workforce now working remotely under necessary COVID restrictions, remote work is no longer considered a perk, but a gilded cage. Now those working from home are much more likely to be experiencing burnout than their on-site counterparts.
Remote work burnout is no mystery. Those working from home now are often not doing so by choice and they may be juggling many responsibilities such as childcare and homeschooling, not to mention the mental toll of living in a pandemic. It’s more important than ever that employers make moves to combat workforce burnout. In this post, we’ll discuss how employers can tackle WFH burnout and support their suffering workforce in this critical moment.
Employees who are low-energy, disinterested, and indifferent are probably suffering from —you guessed it— job burnout. But what is employee burnout? WHO offers this burnout definition:
a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
In short, burnout happens when employees maintain high levels of stress for too long. Maybe they have too much to do and too little time, a tough manager with unrealistic expectations, or they don’t have the right tools to get their work done right.
Employee burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic, as daily work stresses were compounded by the challenges of balancing home life and work in the same setting. Studies show record levels of daily stress and worry have persisted from the start of the pandemic. Employees are burning out now faster than ever.
COVID measures keeping workers at home are critical to surviving the pandemic. However, they are taking a toll on employees and disproportionately affecting women, people of color, and those with caregiving responsibilities.
Many mothers are shouldering the increased responsibilities of caring for kids during the pandemic. So it’s no surprise that 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. report suffering from burnout with work. In fact, working mothers are 28% more likely to experience it than working fathers. This burden doesn’t just lead to low productivity, anxiety, and stress. It is also a contributing factor in the Covid-fueled exodus of women from the workforce.
Furthermore, workers of color may be experiencing even more worry and stress than their white counterparts. They are more likely to lose their jobs, both because they represent a large portion of the workforce in industries with high turnover (such as retail and hospitality) and because of institutionalized discrimination.
Managers may not be helping workers suffering from WFH Burnout. While research shows that nearly 100% of managers rate themselves as supportive of employees with families, only half of their subordinates agree.
So, how to prevent employee burnout? The first step is to recognize the employee burnout signs. Here are some of the most telling indicators that your employees are suffering from WFH burnout.
- One of the most obvious burnout symptoms is reduced energy. Burnout saps employee energy and makes every little task seem impossible to overcome. If your employees seem more sluggish and less productive than usual, it may be burnout.
- Lower motivation can also indicate burnout. Remote workers are especially susceptible to lose sight of the larger picture and feel disconnected. They may feel like nothing they do makes a difference.
- Employees suffering from pandemic fatigue are liable to make more errors in their work or turn in work of lower quality. Their attention to detail may be diminished and they won’t be interested in making improvements.
If you notice any of these burnout symptoms in your employees, it’s time to take action. Without help, employee burn out will only get worse.
In order to tackle burnout from work, employers need to prioritize employee well-being. These are uncertain times that we live in and employee burnout will be inevitable unless managers take concrete steps to forestall it.
Offer flexible work when possible.
While working from home is supposedly more convenient, remote work no longer entails flexibility. With their whole teams online, some managers want employees to stick to their pre-pandemic schedule. But this old model no longer works for employees who are juggling responsibilities and childcare. Sure, some meetings need to be organized and some decisions need to be synchronous. But many workers would benefit from a truly flexible schedule not tied to the typical nine-to-five. As much as possible, managers should encourage employees to work when they can instead of imposing a strict schedule. This will lead to less stressed, more productive employees.
Provide thoughtful check-ins and performance reviews.
Managers who want to prevent burnout need to check in with employees regularly. Most importantly, they need to offer guidance and support to employees who may be feeling that their work isn’t making a difference. Encourage employees to reflect on their own performance and offer praise for work well done. Be sure to connect their accomplishments with the overarching goals of the business. Using performance management software can help facilitate ongoing discussion and avoid employee burnout.
Pay attention to time and mental breaks.
We all know that time became a little wonky during the pandemic. March is June; Monday is Thursday; two is five; five is seven. In this Alice in Wonderland timescape, workdays have grown to be almost an hour longer than they were before the pandemic. As workers struggle to meet expectations, the best way employers can support them is to make sure that they aren’t overworking. Make sure your business is using a time tracker and that your employees are clocking out on time. Encourage them to take breaks throughout the day! Breaks have been shown to improve not only productivity but creativity.
Bring emotional intelligence to the workplace.
In order to prevent burnout with work, employers need to bring empathy and compassion to the workplace. Employers must cultivate emotional intelligence in their interactions, practice active listening, and strive to create a culture of trust. Cultivating a culture of emotional intelligence will help support workers and prevent employee burnout.
Remote work will likely remain a norm even after the pandemic ends. Employers must be proactive in ensuring their employees’ well-being and to make operational changes to support them. By helping those who are most susceptible to pandemic fatigue and burnout, leaders can build better organizations that will last far beyond these difficult years.