In the past, burnout conjured images of stressed-out workers staying in the office till the early hours to meet a deadline. But since the arrival of more widespread remote and hybrid working, there has been an explosion of employees quitting or taking sick leave due to burnout.
So why has working outside the office led to such an increase in burnout? As we move into the new era of hybrid work, what can businesses do to support the mental health of their remote or hybrid teams?
What is burnout?
Two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognized the term burnout. Pretty handy considering 2020 has been coined the great exhaustion! Burnout is formally defined as;
Burnout: exhaustion of either physical or mental resources or a lack of motivation typically arising from prolonged stress at work.WHO
The most common signs that someone is heading towards burnout is feeling consistently tired or emotionally drained. Other symptoms include;
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Feeling trapped or defeated.
- Feelings of isolation.
- Doubting abilities and regularly feeling overwhelmed.
- Having an increasingly negative outlook on life.
How does burnout affect remote or hybrid workers differently?
While burnout affects workers of all kinds, it appears to be affecting remote or hybrid workers in record numbers. In a recent Mckinsey survey, 49% of respondents reported feeling burnout, with 21% saying they are experiencing severe symptoms.
The stress of living through a global pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll. Remote working isn't for everyone, and some employees have also been juggling childcare and other responsibilities at home.
But as we head into the new normal, the risk of burnout still seems to be a significant factor for many organizations. So, why is remote working such a catalyst for burnout?
- When working offsite, the lines between our home-life and work-life become undefined. It can be hard to shut off from work, especially if we don't have a home office we can close the door on at the end of the day. Not having the physical distinction between work and home has left many remote workers putting in longer work hours but not necessarily ticking more off their to-do lists.
- During the lockdown, many employees found themselves putting in extra hours to avoid the boredom of being stuck at home. Now, everyday life is resuming a lack of clear boundaries around work time and personal time is emerging. A significant stressor and contributor to employee burnout, several European countries are setting legislation to ensure employees don't receive notifications outside of work hours.
- When working remotely, it's easy to lose the sense of belonging and esteem that comes from working in an office. We are social creatures that crave being part of a team, and in-person interaction is a crucial component of that basic biological need. Plus, for ambitious employees, taking time out of the office might feel like kissing the promotion they have coveted for years goodbye.
- We have all experienced a major shrinking of our networks, and many of us feel like downright hermits! Over time without in-office interaction, we don't feel part of the group, and it becomes harder to feel confident sharing our ideas. If we aren't careful, ultimately, we can end up wholly demotivated and disconnected from any shared goals.
The Mckinsey survey found that companies who lack clarity around remote working are 2.9 times more likely to experience high levels of burnout amongst their teams. But efforts to make employees' mental and physical wellness a priority should go beyond establishing a clear remote working policy. So what steps can you take to aid remote workers in adjusting to their new normal?
5 tips for reducing remote work burnout
Swap in-office perks for meaningful benefits
In the past, start-ups and tech companies kitted out their offices with snazzy snacks and ping pong tables, and it wasn't long before everyone followed suit. But even before the arrival of the coronavirus, employees were searching for more meaningful benefits. The pandemic has only accelerated workers' desires for wellbeing to be a company priority.
As they switch to hybrid or remote first working models, businesses will have to rethink the benefits they offer. As office spaces become less of a focal point, organizations are getting creative and using the latest apps to treat their teams to perks that encourage physical and mental wellbeing.
For example, at TravelPerk, we have partnered with iFeel, an organization that allows businesses to provide teams with 24/7 mental health support from registered psychologists. Regardless of your location, therapy can often be difficult and expensive to access. With iFeel, we can video chat with a therapist four times a month and talk through any stress or frustrations before they spiral into something more serious.
Those little trips to the water cooler and walking to our meetings all add up, and indications are that employees who work from home have increased back pain and other health problems. As gyms closed down and in-office fitness classes became impossible, companies pivoted to online alternatives to help keep their teams healthy at home.
Now that we are entering the new normal, employees and employers may well prefer the flexibility of these offsite offerings. For example, at TravelPerk, we use Andjoy to access gyms, yoga classes, and tennis courts across the city, as well as hours of online content for when we want to sneak in a quick workout from home.
Focus on flexibility
A recent study by Adecco revealed that 50% of employees felt their work/life balance improved with remote working. As hybrid business models become the norm, people are looking to work smarter not longer, and for management to analyze performance based on outcomes rather than work hours.
To allow employees to focus on their well-being, we doubled down on our flexible work offerings. It's ok with us if our team members want to jump out at 11 am to take their favorite yoga class or break to pick up their kids from school. We give our colleagues autonomy over their workday to fit in the things that bring them happiness and fulfillment.
Foster a sense of belonging
Working in the office makes us feel part of something bigger. We gain a sense of belonging and self-esteem that is hard to replicate at home. So, it's crucial in our new hybrid working world to encourage in-person interaction wherever possible and safe to do so.
While we can conduct many meetings online, some business activities benefit from being face to face. For example, creative sessions aren't as effective when run through a screen, and team building is always more fun when we can talk and share our in-jokes in person.
To make the most of their in-office days, ask your teams to abandon admin tasks in favor of brainstorming sessions and business lunches with co-workers. If you have team members who still need to isolate, establish some fun after-work activities they can join in online. Whether it's a virtual happy hour or an online art class, there are tons of new ways to gather your teams to bond over a glass of wine or try something new.
Hosting a weekly all-hands meeting is another fantastic method for strengthening company culture and boosting your teams’ motivation. Asking different departments to share critical updates and celebrate milestones together can help diminish the silo effect and break down the barriers that grow even easier when working remotely.
Gather those who can come into the office to wrap up the week and enjoy a few drinks afterward. But make sure remote workers feel part of the action by investing in technology to stream the session from home seamlessly.
Assist the ambitious
A key concern, particularly amongst younger generations of employees, is career development. Part of what motivates many is the knowledge that their role has scope to grow, and there are opportunities to be promoted. If remote working leads to less face time with the boss and a lack of clarity on the future, it's easy for employees to lose their connection to company goals.
Managers who overlook these concerns could see team members jumping ship to organizations that reignite those flames of ambition with a clearer commitment to career development. But businesses can do some simple things to reassure employees that remote and hybrid working don’t signal an end to their dreams of promotion.
Management can demonstrate that being remote all or part of the time doesn't hinder productivity or progress by taking the lead and working at home a couple of days each week. Plus, establishing regular in-person check-ins can allow managers to discuss career development more openly without the inherent awkwardness of a Zoom call.
As we have seen, another significant factor in remote workers' sense of disconnection is the shrinking of our professional networks. Another way companies could combat this isolation and increase motivation is to set up an informal mentoring program.
Ask volunteer mentors to list the areas they could provide support and insights in a series of friendly monthly meetups. Set up an annual program where employees can apply for limited slots, and you might just be surprised by the demand.
Host a kickass corporate retreat
As we saw in 2020, we cannot underestimate the value of meeting in person. Without face-to-face interaction with our colleagues, it's easy to feel lackluster about our goals and for motivation to take a nosedive. Companies are making up for missing out on the camaraderie we get through working in the office through organizing envy-inducing corporate retreats.
In the past corporate retreats tended to be the reserve of top sales teams and digital nomads. Directly linked to targets, these getaways often served as a reward for the few. But as we come out of the last tumultuous two years, now more than ever, employees need to get together, bond, and share their successes.
As businesses move away from the traditional office model for hybrid or remote first alternatives, teams will become more disparate, and management could struggle to keep their company cultures strong. As we have less face time with our colleagues, creating opportunities to come together will become more crucial for motivation and morale. Whether bi-annual or quarterly, hosting a corporate retreat gives organizations the chance to deliver critical business updates and gather employees to reignite ambitions and bond over shared goals.
Picking an inspiring destination and mixing meetings with fun activities is a great way to disseminate essential updates while acknowledging your teams' achievements. After gathering for an all-hands meeting, pair up different departments for a cookery class or decadent wine tasting. But to avoid giving off a cringy organized fun factor, make sure you include some time for employees to let their hair down and cut loose.
As the pandemic brought most of our plans to a halt, many of us came to realize the power of having things to look forward to. A kickass corporate retreat can keep your employees excited about working for your organization and maybe even a flurry of talent reaching out for opportunities. After all, in the age of social media, news of an awesome company culture will spread!
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