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Burnout will be the next crisis, but HR can beat it

Are we working from home or living at work?

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Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash

Unleash Your Curiosity Now that remote working is routine, organizations are finding that remote working is not what it was cracked up to be. How can HR maintain restore and maintain engagement for the last leg of the pandemic and avoid a burnout crisis this winter?

  • 31% of US executives are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their employees (only 14% worried about the impact on their customers)
  • Technology hasn’t just blurred the lines between work-life balance but completely eradicated them.
  • If HR doesn’t make changes to the new ‘normal’ way of working, we could be facing the most almighty burnout crisis this winter.

Despite the positive news of upcoming vaccine roll-outs, we are still constantly bombarded with news around widespread unemployment and economic uncertainty. This can leave those with jobs, even when very unhappy in those jobs, feel lucky to have a job at all. However, whilst this feeling of good fortune might prevent them from quitting, it does not stop employees from suffering from fatigue, stress or isolation caused by remote working and it will not stop the looming burnout crisis of 2020.

That is if, we don’t put a new end to this new ‘normal’ way of working.

The reality of the new ‘normal’ way of working

we’re working an additional 45 minutes every day on top of the hours we were previously doing. It’s setting us up for the most almighty burnout crisis this winter.” 

Sure, the new normal has its perks: less time commuting, home cooked meals and (supposedly) more time with the family. But is this really the reality? 

Many are experiencing quite the opposite, working far longer hours than usual, unable to switch off and tethered to endless zoom meetings. Technology hasn’t just blurred the lines between work-life balance, it has completely eradicated them, leaving employees to find it almost impossible to compartmentalise these two very distinctly different aspects of life.

We spoke with Bruce Daisley, Ex Twitter VP and now Best-Selling Author and workplace wellbeing author who said:

“One of the things that has impacted remote work is that we’ve saved some of our commuting time and we’ve worked through it. It means that we’re working an additional 45 minutes every day on top of the hours we were previously doing. It’s setting us up for the most almighty burnout crisis this winter.” 

PwC recently surveyed executives in the US and found that 31% were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their employees. This was over twice as many as those that were concerned about decrease consumer confidence. 72% said they would increase benefits targeted at wellbeing.

@potochnyi via Twenty20

So how can businesses and HR departments make protect their employees from this looming burnout crisis?

1. Replenish your employees ‘goodwill’ reserves

Brian Kropp, Gartner’s head of research in the HR division, pointed out that companies relied on employee reserves of goodwill to get them through the Covid crisis. However, the reservoir is now empty and employee productivity levels are dropping significantly.

HR must replenish these reserves in order to maintain a productive and valuable workforce. Prioritize your wellbeing benefits and consider extra perks to see your employees through the last stretch of this challenging time. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint and your employees need consistent, steady fuel to get the company across the finish line.

It might not be possible to throw a big Christmas party or offer chunky end-of-year bonus’, but this doesn’t mean your employees year or tireless work and effort should go unnoticed. Consider reducing work hours or providing extra days off during the holiday. Gratitude will go a long way with your employees. 

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2. Set realistic targets together

Over-working is one of the biggest reasons for burnout and employees over-work when they are not sure what is expected of them. Workers need to feel like they are on track, and one sure-fire way to ensure everyone is being as productive as possible is by setting realistic targets collaboratively. Encourage management to work with employees on targets together. Look at calendars and set tasks and timelines, and involve them in the process of mapping out their own time – this way you can not only get a better grasp of how long a task will take each individual, but also have a better idea of what employees are doing. Furthermore you won’t end up bombarding them with ad-hoc tasks when they arrive at busy times. 

By creating a realistic schedule, you can also avoid employees spending too much of their spare time on work projects. If possible, keep all assignments within set working hours. 

@TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20

3. Be flexible with working hours 

While concrete working hours give your business a routine and stability, they can also prove to be a barrier to getting a good work-life balance. For those employees with children and other commitments outside of work, there will be times when they need some flexibility with working hours. If you show a willingness to work with your staff on this, then they’ll appreciate you more as an employer, be happier in their position and be less likely to burnout. 

4. Create a positive and progressive environment 

Just like in the office you would invest in office décor and ergonomic furniture to create an environment where your employees feel comfortable working in. Similarly, with remote employees you need to invest in new furniture, technology and software to enable them to be their most productive. By giving your staff the best possible chance to work more efficiently, you’ll not only avoid burnout but you’ll let them grow in their role and become a better asset to your company as a result. 

@ruchardrschunemann via Unsplash

5. Don’t be afraid to change 

Businesses normally have set procedures that have developed as a result of habit or through trial and error. Either way, don’t be afraid to change it up on an individual basis. Each employee will have a different reaction and response to remote working and will react differently to different methods. 

Although procedures are important for quality assurance reasons, be reactive. This is a completely new situation for everyone so it’s totally understandable that you would need to step back, reflect on and change up procedures as you go along. 

HR is all about getting the best out of people, so take the time to find out how your staff work to avoid a burnout crisis this winter.

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