Post-COVID burnout is a very real and consequential issue for companies across the US especially now that the pandemic is abating. Mental health issues are on the rise.
It’s been found that burnout is a contributing factor to the current mass exodus of women from the workforce (9.8 million working mothers are suffering from burnout). But pandemic fatigue also causes low productivity, anxiety and stress for workers who are sticking around, according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). That stress is felt even more by people of color. HBR stated Black and Latino workers are more worried than their white counterparts about their employment post-pandemic because they tend to work in industries with high risks of layoffs.
Pandemic stress will continue as companies adopt a hybrid workplace, where employees work both at home or onsite, or shift to working 100% from home. This new normal of continually adjusting working conditions is viable of hot bed stressors and employers should take steps to recognize burnout and help prevent it.
Maintain a Flexible Work Environment
A flexible work schedule means employees have the option to compress their workdays, work “non-traditional” hours or potentially telecommute. To help avoid burnout, employers need to help maintain a flexible work environment no matter if employees are onsite or at home.
The Balance Careers notes flexible work configurations allow employees to work when they accomplish most, feel freshest and enjoy working. It’s difficult to sit at a desk for eight hours straight under normal circumstances and even more so at home. Some workers are most productive in the morning and others at night.
Flexible work schedules help employees balance their work and personal lives, whether they work from home or in an office. Flexible schedules allow employees to go to a parent-teacher conference, drop the dog off at the vet, take a yoga class or wait for a repairman. That flexibility is important for employees who work from home because it’s harder for them to escape family responsibilities.
One complication of offering flexible work schedules to those working at home is the impact it has on the ability to work with colleagues in the office or those on more traditional work schedules. Requiring all hands on deck for core days or core hours is one way to combat this issue.
Allow for Mental Breaks to Avoid Post-COVID Burnout
The uncertainty, anxiety and stress of the pandemic and its aftereffects can all take a toll on a worker’s mental health, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Taking a mental break can help alleviate some of this stress. Research shows mental breaks help employees enhance their mental well-being, boost productivity and increase engagement.
As an employer, encourage workers to take their scheduled breaks, even those who are at home. Reinforce break-taking during meetings and with company-wide emails, even if your industry doesn’t typically have scheduled breaks. It’s important to let all employees know they should stand up, stretch and look away from their computers. Schedule online gatherings focused on anything BUT work. Some companies hold a virtual happy hour, others virtual coffee breaks or just a fun game time. Allow a little time during each team meeting to check in with employees to see how they’re doing.
Do More Than Encourage Vacations, Encourage Disconnecting
Many employees don’t take a vacation, even when they need it. The American Psychological Association found:
- A third of US workers say their workload makes it difficult to take time off
- A quarter worry they will miss important information or opportunities
- One in five say they feel guilty when they do take time off
- Only 41% of working Americans say their organization’s culture encourages them to take time off
The pandemic has only made these numbers worse. A recent report found 72% of Americans didn’t take a vacation in 2020 and 44% didn’t use their paid time off.
Employers need to make it easier for employees to take time off and really disconnect while doing it. For example, a LinkedIn article shared that when Arianna Huffington’s employees take a vacation, all emails they receive while out are automatically deleted. Citigroup banned internal video calls on Fridays and at Absolute Software, when an employee is plugged in for too long, the company does a wellness check.
Take steps to help employees take their vacations and completely disconnect and ease them back into work.
- Alert team members of unused PTO and encourage them to schedule and use it.
- Educate employees about the importance of taking a vacation and how to combat burnout.
- Encourage cross-training among team members so taking time off isn’t as stressful for the team.
- Encourage returning employees to build time into their schedule for catching up on email and other built-up tasks.
- Allow them to work uninterrupted on the day of return so the employee can ease in and catch up undisturbed.
Help Employees Change How They Work
Managers are instrumental in helping employees change work habits to reduce anxiety, stress and ultimately burnout. Some strategies include:
- Focusing on one thing at a time, instead of multi-tasking
- Working at a steady pace
- Breaking down tasks into smaller achievable parts
- Celebrating small successes
- Taking regular breaks
- Only working overtime when necessary
- Resisting working while on vacation
Performance management is a great tool to keep the lines of communication open with your employees. The goal of performance management is to keep your employees performing at their best, allowing issues that might impact performance to be addressed as they arise. Arcoro’s Performance Management Software provides the insight needed to make informed personnel decisions with robust reporting, real-time monitoring and time-saving automation. With regular performance management, managers will be able to spot signs of burnout and quickly take steps to help their employees reduce stress.
To learn more, read How to Support Employee Mental Health in 2021.