As the COVID-19 pandemic swells for the second time in the United States, it’s hard to imagine anyone that isn’t immensely frustrated.
While the virus never really went away, as some would like to believe, clear progress was evident in dwindling case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths from mid-May to mid-June.
Millions of Americans, having spent months scrubbing the skin of their hands and avoiding the elderly, saw the light at the end of the tunnel and began to contemplate a return to normal.
With case counts surpassing 45,000 a day consistently and cases rising significantly in 39 states, a fresh round of lockdowns loom, and much of the progress of the last months appears to have been bittersweet.
For those in the American workforce fortunate enough to retain employment by working remotely, this likely means that a return to the office is unlikely anytime soon.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workers have struggled to maintain a sense of normalcy. Most surveys indicate that substantial chunks of those working from home have experienced Burnout.
Troublingly, the number of remote workers reporting Burnout has continued to rise the pandemic rages. Understanding employee burnout is critical for anyone looking to ensure their employees are healthy, happy, motivated, and productive during this unprecedented environment.
In this article, we’ll seek to understand better employee burnout and how we can combat it.
In the simplest definition, Burnout can be thought of as exhaustion brought upon by stress. When you become exhausted, in any sense, you can feel physically, emotionally, and mentally drained, and with that depletion comes questions of whether or not it’s worth putting forth the same level of effort.
You can Burnout during exercise when you face physical challenges that are beyond your current level of fitness. You can Burnout reading an impossibly long or statistically dense novel.
You can Burnout trying to convince a child to stop misbehaving. You can Burnout trying to learn a new skill if it proves consistently challenging to master.
The prospect of burning out is an ever-present reality for anyone, of any age, in any aspect of their lives.
When the amount of stress we take on exceeds our threshold for tolerating it, we become exhausted and succumb to unhealthy emotions, outlooks, and habits.
The CDC notes that much of what can be categorized as employee burnout has to do with increased levels of stress and that employee burnout is a common phenomenon on the rise during COVID-19.
Knowing the symptoms of stress is essential to monitoring your own emotions during this time and your employees.
Some of the symptoms of stress identified by the CDC include: Feeling easily irritated, angered, or annoyed; persistent anxiety or nervousness; increased fatigue and having trouble sleeping; lacking motivation and a desire to complete tasks; and general feelings of sadness.
Employee Burnout is categorically different than, say, student burnout, but many of the feelings and emotions involved are identical. Most commonly associated with employee burnout are a lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, sadness, and depression.
Monitoring feelings and being honest with the way you feel, as we all know, isn’t always the easiest thing to do. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been even harder.
While many of these feelings aren’t explicitly bound to work conditions or unique to our present reality, it’s essential to keep in mind that Burnout during the pandemic, as we’ve noted, is a phenomenon that consistently risen over the past few months.
Its correlation with social distancing lockdown measures is no coincidence.
Employees Burnout for all sorts of reasons, irrespective of where they’re working. Usually, employee burnout can occur due to:
All of these factors can contribute to employee burnout and have at any point in history.
As the CDC describes, COVID-19 remote working has brought new challenges and concerns on top of the existing threats.
The virus has dictated much of our lives, and the way work feels for many working remotely has not been spared. Many of us live in a near-constant state of concern about the virus, and when we forget about it, we open our phones or turn on the TV and are quickly reminded of its omnipresence.
We worry for ourselves, the elderly, our loved ones, those on the front lines, and our livelihoods. Many find themselves wishing they could be doing more to make a difference during this time, and it’s clear to see why.
But how the virus has changed work itself and our relationships with work are also clearly contributing to the rise in employee burnout.
With an unclear future and confusing present, remote work during COVID-19 has become an environment ripe for employee burnout.
Workloads and schedules have wildly changed and continue to do so for many. Some lack access to the appropriate tools to complete their job or a safe, quiet, and comfortable environment to complete their work.
Persisting through connectivity issues and learning new online tools has plagued all of us. And importantly, many working from home are either caring for children out of school or working alongside partners or adult children stuck in the same situation.
Being a parent has become a full-time job for many trying to hold on to their jobs, and the balancing act is putting significant strain on both families and work.
The risks of employee burnout cannot be overstated – First and foremost, the well-being of employees should be a top priority of any employer.
If Employees begin to Burnout, their well-being is at risk, and their needs as individuals should come before all else.
For employers, the risk doesn’t stop there: With the quality of work submitted by burnt-out employees likely in decline, in addition to dwindling motivation and diminished morale, the business cannot reasonably expect to survive in a time when entire industries are failing.
Knowing how to mitigate employee burnout is a top priority for anyone interested in coming out in one piece on the other side of the pandemic.
Luckily for employers and employees alike, limiting employee burnout is possible, even during this time. In this section, we’ll share four tips employers can utilize to combat employee burnout.
Much of what employees are missing during this time is camaraderie and connectivity to their coworkers, work, and workplace. Recreating this through screens isn’t as difficult as it seems.
Regularly check in with employees about how they’re doing and where they’re at, both emotionally, personally, and in terms of their work. Encourage employees to interact with one another and creative meetings or groups.
It’s also essential to provide employees with regular feedback and be open to their needs and concerns. Regularly checking in this way can ensure employees remain engaged and invested in their work and the people they work with.
While many of the feelings people are experiencing during this time won’t be foreign to them, they must understand what Burnout is and how to look out for it.
Though the first two sections above serve as a great introduction to the issue of Burnout, putting on a professional development session or creating a resource to disseminate to employees will ensure your employees are ready to recognize the warning signs.
Employers can also designate a point person on their staff (or be that person themselves) to be the person employees contact when Burnout fears arise.
The same can be achieved by creating affinity groups for employees to discuss their feelings, emotions, and personal lives during this time or by creating a fragmented buddy system. Employees check on one another in pairs or small groups regularly to sustain community interdependence.
It’s always been challenging to prioritize work-life balance, but remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a new challenge. Many are confined to their own homes and have been for months with limited opportunities and confidence in interacting with the outside world.
Employers play an essential role in ensuring their employees practice work-life balance during this time. Employees should be encouraged consistently to create schedules for themselves and keep work in blocks of time to unplug outside of working hours. Help them designate time for doing things they enjoy, get out, and connect with friends and loved ones.
Without clear separations of work and life outside of work, it’s supremely challenging to tell the difference between the two, and both suffer as a result.
Frustrated with the incoherence of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the inconsistency of guidelines has been widespread. Leadership in this time is tasked with making impossibly tough decisions on a moment-to-moment basis with ever-evolving data.
Discussions among those not involved in decision making often revolve around wishing they knew more about what was going into the decisions being made. A little bit of transparency and inclusivity into those decisions may go a long way.
By informing employees of a policy rationale and production process, they will have a better idea of where leadership is taking them and comforting knowing why individual decisions are necessary. By courting their input and genuinely listening to it, employees will feel their voice is being heard, and, regardless of what’s being pursued, they’re likely to feel validated at the bare minimum.
Before you leave, three apps employers can utilize or provide employees with the help curb inevitable employee burnout as it arises. These apps either feature a free trial, a free version, reduced prices for those unemployed, or employers’ packages.
Mindfulness is more than a trend. Headspace is one of the world’s most popular meditation apps, and for a good reason. There are dozens of different guided meditations and mindfulness sessions available to stream on the app, which also has a feature to help users practice regularity.
It’s more important than ever to promote habits that help us process our emotions and feelings, and apps like Headspace provide an excellent way for people to do so remotely.
While there are many apps that promise to offer exercise guidance, Alo Moves is a great one to provide employees with many entry points. Whether an employee is a fitness junkie or someone who’s just looking to get a little more active, Alo Moves has tons of different exercise, stretching, and yoga videos and programs for users to follow.
This app does exactly what it sounds like: help’s users track their mood. Users can chart their mood over time – taking into account all relevant factors, from sleep and connectivity to loved ones to time spent being active and the amount of water or sugar a person intakes. Using a mood tracker, employees can self-monitor their levels of Burnout and observe changes over time.