The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many office workers spending the vast majority of their work time at home. While this was unnatural for many of us, it initially seemed like a welcome benefit. Many employees were happy not to face long commutes, and others found that they were more productive in a home office where they weren’t so easily distracted by co-workers.
However, as the pandemic lingers and many employees continue to work in isolated, remote settings, employee burnout numbers are rising dramatically. In fact, one study shows that employee burnout while working from home is up 58% and another estimates the number to be as high at 75%. These alarming statistics are causing many to ask: How can we help employees avoid burnout while working from home?
If you run a business or manage employees, you cannot afford to be ignorant of these rising numbers. Work-from-home burnout is very real, and employees across the country are experiencing it at record levels.
Working from home has led many employees to work longer hours, be “available” at any time of the day or night, and blur the lines between work time and family time. Because the workday never seems to end, the stresses, pressures, and anxieties of work are following employees wherever they go.
While a true, viral pandemic continues to impact the health and wellbeing of millions, there is another, less obvious pandemic that is hurting the productivity, efficiency, and happiness of your employees. The burnout pandemic will not go away on its own. You must take action.
Here are three ways you can help employees avoid burnout while working from home.
1. Create Virtual Stopping Signals
Employees working at home may feel like the workday never ends because they are unable to draw clear stopping points. In an office, when the clock hits 5pm, you’ll typically start to see people packing up and shuffling out. By 6pm, you’re likely to start to feel alone. These are visual signals that help you know when to stop working.
At home, employees do not get the benefit of these visual signals. They work and work and work until they don’t have any more work left to do. We’ve heard of some employees unintentionally working until 7 or 8pm simply because they didn’t realize they needed to stop.
As a company, you can create virtual stopping signals that replicate what an emptying office at 5pm used to provide. Perhaps you send out a Slack message at a certain time, letting everyone know you’re proud of the work they accomplished today and encouraging them to have a fun evening. Perhaps you discourage managers from assigning new work to their direct reports past a certain time of day. Or maybe you ban work communication in any form after 6pm so as to let your employees truly unplug and unwind.
Whatever you decide to do, we think it’s important to signal to employees that they can stop working at the end of each day.
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2. Set Expectations, Make Priorities Clear
Because employees are working more than ever before, they may be struggling to understand what is expected of them. Perhaps they don’t know what the “most important” thing they can be doing is, and therefore they treat everything as if it’s the most important.
To help avoid employee burnout, sit down with your employees, and find out what tasks they’re currently juggling. Help them to see which proverbial juggling balls are important to keep in the air, and which ones can be dropped with little or no consequence. When employees know what is expected of them and what to prioritize, they’ll make better decisions. They’ll also be more focused, more productive, and happier.
3. Encourage Employees to Take Extended Vacations
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy, unfamiliar mental burden on all of us. For employees working in an isolated, remote workspace, this burden is feeling heavier every day. A great way for employees to unload some of this burden is by taking a vacation.
You may have a vacation policy already, and it’s very possible that your policy is really good. But are your employees currently taking advantage of it? Many surveys are suggesting that employees are taking fewer vacations than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may be due to the fact that vacation and travel options are limited, but it may also be due to the fact that workers feel more tied to their job than ever before. So even if your employees have vacation days available, they may not be using them.
Turning this around will require action on your part. Some companies have recently announced what they’re calling, “Mandatory Vacation Days.” In fact, Chatbooks, a 150-employee company in Utah, recently implemented a new vacation policy that mandates employees to take “five consecutive business days off every quarter.”
We believe that to maintain happiness and productivity in the office, employees will not only need time off but will need extended time off. They’ll not only need vacation days available to them but will need you to mandate that they take them.
We’ve entered into a new frontier of employee burnout. A great way to fight it is by suggesting employees take time off to unwind, relax, reenergize, and recommit.
Wondering how to create a great vacation policy? Check out our comprehensive guide.
Employees working from home are burning out at unprecedented rates. Some of this is due to the stress related to the pandemic, but a great deal of it comes from the adjustments of working from home.
Remember, employees need to have clear social or visual signals to help them recognize the end of the workday. Employees also need to understand what to prioritize and how they can best meet the expectations of the company. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. Finally, don’t be afraid to encourage your employees to take some time off. Sometimes the best way to perform well at work is to step away for a few days.
By considering the three suggestions covered in this article, you’ll begin to rejuvenate your workforce and help your employees avoid burnout.