Workplace burnout is real. Especially in a time where a large number of companies are 100% remote until COVID passes. Google recently announced they will keep their employees working remotely until Summer 2021 and several other tech companies are following their lead. Some days it feels like there is no end in sight.
My company has been 100% remote since March, and my kids have been home with us. As you can guess, our house is complete chaos most days. At the same time, I am grateful to be home with my family and spending time with them at home makes me feel safe. The challenge is the days blend into the nights and the nights blend into the days. There is no signal for me that the work day is coming to an end other than the little ones getting antsy and hangry.
We find ourselves not looking forward to the weekend and a small part of me gets a little anxiety when the weekend is coming in fear of having nothing to do. Having work on my plate is comforting because it keeps my mind preoccupied and distracted from the craziness going on in the world right now.
As an HR Leader, I am keenly aware that not everyone is approaching our new remote lifestyle the same and it’s on me to tap into the lives of everyone at work and check in on their well being. Doing so was much easier when I could walk around the office and stumble upon folks in the kitchen grabbing their afternoon snack. In a remote work setup, if I don’t go out of my way to touch base with people, I could probably go months without seeing certain employees on a Zoom call.
A challenge any HR Leader naturally has in an organization is the innate fear people have for HR reaching out. In the past Human Resources was a rules, regulations and personnel tracking machine, but over the years it’s evolved to a more human-centric focal point of an organization to support, develop and nurture the company’s most valuable asset— the people. It brings me great joy seeing people happy, confident and thriving.
Unfortunately, a good way to squash those good vibes in the workplace is when burnout creeps into the culture. Here’s what I have discovered that helps address and prevent workplace burnout.
Easier said than done during a pandemic. In a time where we are expected to stay home, social distance ourselves and limit human interaction, building relationships can be somewhat tricky. It can be done, but we just have to get creative with it.
Who says all virtual work meetings have to be 100% business? Make time in the minutes before or after the meeting to check in on people’s day, weekends and personal well being. Ask your coworkers, “How are you doing today?” or “What Netflix series are you into right now?”. Simply showing you genuinely care gets people to open up and trust in you. I have found when people feel burnt out at work, it’s the strong relationships that keep us going.
After 4+ months of my company being 100% remote and coming from an in-office environment, I make an effort to note any behavioral changes from my coworkers. For example, if someone that is often cheery and delighted becomes quiet and reserved, I check in with them. I have also taken note of employees that are normally collaborative but suddenly start taking a defensive stance in meetings. It’s quite possible they are experiencing meeting fatigue and offering guidance on how to combat meeting fatigue can get them back on track.
Anything out of the ordinary perks my eyes and ears to pay attention to the employee’s stress levels. Know the stressors of your teammates. Once you know someone’s stressors you can either try to get in front of the stressor and diffuse it before it happens, or if it’s unavoidable, you can acknowledge it’s coming and partner with them to minimize the burden.
For instance, if a work peer gets really stressed by the thought of running a monthly Excel report for your shared managers, offer a helping hand. Perhaps they don’t have confidence in their Excel pivot table skills and the thought of doing the tedious work makes them anxious. You can either take time to help grow them in that skill, or when it’s that time of month again to do the report, do what you can to be available to answer questions, guide and support them through it.
I have found when I check-in with people, especially if it’s over Slack, employees will simply send back pleasantries and say “Everything is just fine”. I realize it can be intimidating when the HR team is reaching out and I have found the best way to get more honesty is to build relationships with them prior.
To my point in Tip #1, don’t only reach out when something feels wrong. Make a genuine effort to get to know everyone right from the start. Know what makes your colleagues tick, and when their natural patterns are off, we can lean in a bit to offer our support in subtle ways. Building trust over time will make employees feel more comfortable about sharing and being honest when you do check in.
When we aren’t around our coworkers in person, it’s easy to lose the human-centric elements of building relationships. Everyone starts to look at one another as task doers and cogs in a wheel when we only touch base with one another virtually. When deadlines are missed or a project is turned in imperfect, leaders can either assume that person dropped the ball or start with empathy before they get upset.
I have seen leaders say, “Well, there is no excuse to not get the work done. We are all at home right now with nothing else to do.” We don’t know what this individual may be struggling with in their personal life from juggling work, kids, family, pets, plants and more. We should never assume work is the number one priority for our employees. Frankly, work should never be someone’s number one priority.
The company I work for believes in family first, then health and last career. From the top of our leadership team and down, this mini motto is practiced everyday. We recently made a directive that business hours don’t have to be the traditional 9 to 5. If a person needs the morning to teach school lessons to their little one, take the time to do so. We wouldn’t want that employee to feel stressed out and guilty because they didn’t put their children first.
If someone prefers to jumpstart their morning by getting online early at 6 am to work so they can get off in the early afternoon to get a self-care day in or take their dogs to the park, we encourage it. As long as the work is getting done and we are communicating openly with management on our work schedule, we have the flexibility to manage our own time.
I have found it’s having empathy exist up and down the management chain and across the organization that makes this work environment possible.
Recently, I have heard friends and coworkers tell me, “Sometimes I forget what this is all for.” When a sense of purpose is not clearly in view, it’s easy to get jaded, bored, confused and— burnt out.
Every company has a purpose. Make sure your company talks about its purpose in All Hands meetings, 1:1s, internal email newsletters and more. Having your company’s mission and vision constantly front and center will rejuvenate your employees to hang in there. It gives us something to rally behind together.
Since most of the U.S. is under travel restrictions, I have found employees are taking less paid time off. However, I hesitate to force someone to take time off because for all I know, it’s work that is keeping them sane.
Still, there are welcoming ways to reward with time off. One trick I have seen is when people talk about things they want to do, whether it be a road trip they want to take or a spa day they are dreaming about, I encourage it in the moment and get excited for them.
I also offer my employees to take time off after they have worked really hard on a project and rather than me telling them what day to take. I usually say, “Wow, thank you so much for the efforts you have put in and if you’d like a day to kick back and relax in the near future, check out your calendar, and I welcome you to take a day. Let me know what works best for you.”
Virtual Happy Hours don't have to be at the end of the day. Having fun team building activities and meetings in the middle of the day breaks up the monotony of work from home life.
We have a learning and development program at my company, and I plan the workshops either right before lunch or right after lunch. I like to host workshops when employees are excited and gearing up for a nice break in the day or when they are coming off of their lunch break and refreshed. I have found if employees are jumping in right from a very stressful meeting to my learning workshops, they are distracted, frazzled and less interested to participate.
I have also heard of companies having virtual lunches and coffees. We have Thursday afternoon get-togethers where we do trivia, pictionary or other fun activities together. Get creative, break up the day and have fun at work.
Workplace burnout can silently creep up in a remote only work environment. Be kind to yourself, share how you are doing and open up to your coworkers. In return, they will do the same.
When vulnerability is present in the workplace, employees are able to speak up before burnout and extreme stress takes over. Creating a work culture of empathy and openness will ensure people know speaking up makes them strong rather than weak.