The last few months have placed new pressures on businesses and their employees as COVID-19 has forced changes to our lives, both personal and professional. While some of the impacts are positive – more time to reflect and be with family – others are less so.
According to a recent study, four in five HR managers think long-term homeworking has unearthed a culture of ‘e-presenteeism’, whereby workers feel obliged to be online as much as possible, and Britons on average have been working 28 extra hours per month.1 The result is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue and experts are calling on employers to act now to avoid burnout among their employees.
Burnout’s characteristics include emotional exhaustion, lack of energy and concentration, and job dissatisfaction, threatening mental health and, in turn, employers’ ability to operate and retain their staff. So, what action can businesses take to help prevent burnout?
Typically, employees want their workload to match their capacity and capabilities. When employees feel overloaded, they lose the ability to switch off and may suffer from stress and fatigue. Employers should empower managers to monitor workload and ensure it is appropriate. The extra stresses of the pandemic, such as loneliness, anxiety and childcare pressures must be considered and expectations adapted.
Managers should also ensure their team members are not unfairly burdened. Often, the most engaged, skilled and productive employees end up with the lion’s share of work, putting at risk those people they most need to retain.
If excessive workload is more perception than reality, managers can help employees plan, prioritise and delegate. Understanding what makes individuals tick, helping them let go of perfectionism, and looking at whether time management or workload reduction is the solution, can help address feelings of burnout and ensure they are able to switch off.
Give employees a sense of control
The pandemic has left many people feeling out of control over their work and job security, financial prospects, health and their family’s safety, which can lead to exhaustion. Although some of these factors are outside of employers’ influence, there are steps managers can take to give employees more autonomy and control, balancing out the effects of the pandemic.
Allow team members to set their own working schedules and boundaries where possible; making sure they understand the organisation’s priorities and can align with these. Focusing on outcomes and quality, rather than hours worked, to support productivity and help employees achieve a better balance.
Providing information and updates regularly is more important than ever when teams are working remotely. It’s also important to ensure managers are checking in regularly with individual team members, having genuine dialogue to make sure that they feel empowered and in control of their work.
Community and camaraderie
With many employees currently having to work from home, it’s easy for them to feel isolated. To prevent potential burnout, it’s essential each individual feels supported and managers find new ways to create the team camaraderie which comes more naturally in an office setting. Simple check-ins, regular feedback and supportive comments will help, as will encouraging colleagues to catch up with each other informally.
Burnout can be contagious so it’s important to manage the morale of teams as a whole. Keep an eye on how colleagues are interacting and create opportunities for virtual team socials. Friday afternoon Zoom quizzes or catch ups are a great way for employees to relax and socialise with each other and can be a useful window into how people are feeling. Here are some ideas of how to keep your team motivated when working from home.
Perceptions of unfairness can easily develop when teams are working remotely, so it’s important that employers are alert to this. For example, do some employees get praised and acknowledged for their contributions while others’ work goes unnoticed? Do some employees get more support, help and resources than others? Do some employees pick up more of the workload than others?
Employers can put measures in place to create checks and facilitate feedback across the business. Sometimes managers will not recognise unconscious biases, so encourage employees to speak up if they feel they are being treated unfairly and ensure they feel safe in doing this. Encourage a culture where people can challenge each other honestly and constructively, and consider feedback channels such as employee surveys, 360 feedback reviews and informal employee check ins.
Put health and wellbeing at the forefront
Now, more than ever before, employers need to be mindful of employees’ wellbeing and put programmes in place to support them.
Health care cash plans, which businesses can offer within employee benefits packages, are a helpful and cost-effective way for employers to take care of their people.
A cash plan is designed to give money back towards everyday health care costs, such as dental treatment, eye tests, glasses/contact lenses, physiotherapy and much more.
Asset, from Sovereign Health Care, not only allows your employees to claim back for these everyday health care costs, but it also includes Personal Accident cover and an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as standard. An EAP provides confidential support, assistance and counselling to help employees deal proactively with a wide range of issues and life events.