The impact of the pandemic on workers has been catastrophic in so many different ways that it’s hard to quantify.
But to get some sense of it all, a recent Metlife annual benefits report reveals that:
- 44% of employees have serious concerns about their physical, mental, and social health
- 52% of employees are worried about deteriorating financial well-being
- 41% of workers don't feel that their current benefits offerings are adequate during these difficult times
- 80% of employees believe their employers have a responsibility to address their health and wellbeing, especially during COVID-19
On top of that, a 2020 Work from Home Productivity Study by GetApp, a Gartner company, further reveals that:
- 82% of remote workers feel pressure to put in more hours
- 67% of employees are occasionally or regularly using personal devices (mainly phones and computers) for work purposes and half of them are stressed by it
- 44% of small and midsize business leaders want to let their teams work remotely some of the time and reduced productivity is a top concern
Based on statistics alone, it’s clear that employees and companies are facing challenges in some form or other in remote work culture. Let's be honest though - we don't need data studies to tell us our employees are having a tough time these days.
While some company leaders might think their biggest employee challenge today is a remote productivity issue, a retention issue or a work-life balance issue, by far the biggest and most pressing challenges for employees today all boil down to this…
Employee mental health and employee burnout.
Since the future of the physical office is up in the air for some - and non-existant for many others - companies really need to reassess how they’re treating employee wellness in this new virtual work setting. Even the most employee-centric companies must take a good look at their remote workplace norms to ensure that employee wellness - and employee burnout prevention - gets the attention it deserves.
The meaning of employee burnout
So what’s the definition of employee burnout anyway?
We’re going to take our definition of employee burnout from one of the world's leading authorities in burnout recovery and prevention, Michael Levitt, Found & Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, Certified NLP and CBT Therapist, Author of "Burnout Proof: How to Establish Boundaries to Avoid the Negativity of Stress".
“Employee Burnout occurs when employees are in a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when employees feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
- Signs of employee burnout include:
- Poor sleep habits, where employees seem groggy or overly tired on the Zoom Calls.
- Lost Motivation, where employees no longer seem to have the drive to perform.
- Increased Mistakes & Poor Memory, where employees are making more mistakes than normal and they’re forgetful.
- Decision-making struggles. Employees struggle to give clear responses to questions.
- Irritable. Employees are arguing more with co-workers, and management.”
Sure, it's clear that burnout is terrible for employees, but what impact does it actually have on an employer? Is that quantifiable? Probably not 100%, but a recent Gallup study on employee burnout shares some insight:
Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout at work are:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day
- 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
- 2.6x as likely to be actively seeking a different job
Burnout and depression also overlap, which means letting employee burnout go unchecked in your organization can lead to even more complex mental health challenges among your valued employees.
9 ways to manage and prevent employee burnout
1. To manage employee burnout, talk about it
Felicia Daniel, SHRM-CP, HR Manager at TINYpulse, an employee engagement software company on a mission to create happier employees, finds employee burnout to be “inevitable unless you’re proactively being actionable about it”. Here’s how she and her team mitigate it:
We incorporate fun games/polls in our virtual meetings. This breaks up the regular agenda that each employee has gone “numb” to and fights off “Zoom Fatigue.”
We’ve incorporated weekly 1-on-1 meetings with each employee and their manager. The employee gets to lead the meeting to talk about where they need help and how they’re feeling. We’ve even trained our managers to recognize symptoms of depression and self-harm.
We’ve increased flexibility. Working the traditional 9-5 isn’t realistic anymore. Especially, while everyone has a home-life to attend to. No harm, no foul, we’ve set clear expectations for our employees day-to-day activity.
We know that burnout is a major concern not only for us, but for our employees. Engaging them on day one is critical too. Remote new hires might say they’re fine, but in reality, they’re not. I just launched a TINYbuddy program that will help our new employees get to know our veteran team members. It’ll bring back those social interactions we’ve all grown to love and now, miss. Plus, it’ll build upon our culture and keep all our employees engaged.”
Thibaud Clement, CEO and Co-Founder of Loomly, similarly encourages employers to be proactive and work with employees to create a better day-to-day work environment:
“Leaders can best solve remote work burnout by being proactive instead of waiting for burnout signs to address the issue. If you only implement reactive strategies to burnout, then the processes in place will come off disingenuine. Company leaders should be consistently running a temperature check to gauge how employees feel in terms of their motivation and fatigue. The antidote to burnout is promoting a healthy work-life balance, which means it is essential to encourage employees to take time off to recharge when they feel it necessary. Having employees take vacation time even when telecommuting is extremely important to allow for a period of recharge.
Collaboration is another word that can help combat burnout. I work to maintain a sense of cooperation in my employee’s day-to-day routine and the company’s larger picture. Remote work can be isolating and make an employee feel that they are working just for work; looping the whole company in on a common goal helps employees see how their work contributes to a bigger overall goal.
For instance, we have set our eyes on an ambitious revenue milestone for 2021, and I update the team every month during our all-hands meetings on how close we are getting to that number. These updates allow us to share a common purpose and work towards it together, no matter what comes our way.”
2. Look at it from all angles of your employees' routine
Christy Maria Jose, Senior Manager, People Ops at Fingent, says their team encourage managers and team leads to have video meetings with their entire team at least twice a week. “We also encourage them to keep it as informal as possible, You have to compensate for the lack of human interaction in remote work. Rather than being appraised of the status of projects and processes, video meetings can be used to compensate for the lack of the ever so satisfying watercooler chats.”
Some of the ways the team at Fingent mitigates burnout and promotes employee health include:
“Encouraging downtime. We make sure that employees have enough downtime and aren’t inundated with emails and chats outside of their work hours. We encourage our employees to turn off their chats and log out of their emails outside of their working hours.
Another step towards achieving this is to stick to a fixed meeting schedule. This helps foster a productive routine and avoids disruption.
Flexible work hours. Employees should be able to pick hours that work best for them. As long as they come up with good results and show up for meetings, we encourage them to work at their own pace.
Quarterly reviews. The final key is to have quarterly reviews, not just for the employees but also for management. This helps identify things that are working and ones that aren’t. It also helps address their grievances, if any, which goes a long way in ensuring employee wellness”
3. Set healthy boundaries
Ben LaMarche, General Manager of Lock Search Group, sheds light on the important fact that there’s a difference between actual and a perceived separation between home-life and work-life:
“Working from home blurs the lines between work and life. We aren't physically leaving the office every day, so there's no clear distinction between being at work and at home. It's challenging to maintain that boundary, and too many of us feel we have to be on 24/7.
Many of my clients have observed a decline in PTO usage. The beaches may be gone, but the need for time off is greater than ever. To encourage vacations, one company set up an automated reminder about PTO (you're more likely to take time off if you're reminded you can). Another began circulating a vacation calendar, relying on vacation envy to drive PTO (bonus: it cut down on concurrent vacations).
To ease the rate of burnout, companies can go two routes: increase flexibility or double down on 9-5 (or whichever hours a company keeps). Increasing flexibility means allowing employees to work around their schedule. Some tasks need to be done in collaboration, but everything else should be at the employee's discretion. if working at 2 am works best for them, they should be free to work at 2 am, so long as the work gets done consistently and on time.
Doubling down on 9-5 means banning (or strongly discouraging) work done after the office would traditionally close. This policy has to come from the top down. If management signs off on time and doesn't re-engage until the next morning, employees may feel less pressure to be on 24/7.
These aren't perfect solutions. We're all discovering that as much as we hated doing it, commuting was an important psychological barrier between home and work. One of my clients switched from conference calls to group zoom calls after observing burnout, betting that the ritual of dressing up for work and changing at the end of the day would employees distinguish between work/non-work hours. It helped.”
Darrell Rosenstein, CEO of The Rosenstein Group echoes this need to encourage boundaries and encourage better flexibility:
“Some employers are requiring their remote employees to be on their computer and logged in the same hours as they were in the physical office. But with the realities of working from home, this might not be such an easy thing to do and insisting that employees be logged in for 8+ hours while still doing things like cooking, homeschooling, and feeding young children is a sure path to mental and physical burnout.
To combat this, employers should make accommodation for flexible work. Remote work is not the same as flexible work. Some work processes can still take place without everyone logging in at the same time. While you should have regular check-ins, allow employees some control over their schedules; as long as they are delivering on agreed milestones and you are happy with their performance, give them the flexibility they need to balance work and life responsibilities.”
4. Understand that mental health and physical health are linked
Michael Levitt, Founder & Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, Certified Virtual Speaker, Certified NLP and CBT Therapist, advises that companies support their employees’ whole selves:
“Encourage employees to get proper sleep. Maintaining a no work hours policy, and encouraging employees to get 7-8 hours of restful sleep is critical for restful and healing sleep.
Provide employees access to a dietitian or nutritionist will help employees eat healthier, which gives them the natural energy to perform and navigate stressful situations, without the sugary and highly caffeinated “pick me ups” that are often the go-to for employees.
Encourage employees to get more active. Walking check-in calls instead of zoom calls will help employees get in some more activity, instead of being chained to their desk (or chair/couch if working remotely.)”
5. Watch out for overtime and off-hours work
William Cannon, CEO of Signaturely, cautions to be wary of remote employees’ tendency to work more than is necessary:
“People using flex or remote systems often do feel more thankful to their employers. That feeling of responsibility can motivate some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas till they run out of gas. An analysis paper titled “Doing More with Less? Flexible Working Practices and the Intensification of Work” explores this unanticipated outcome of embracing flexible working methods.
Employees respond to the capacity to work flexibly by exerting added effort, to return benefit to their employer. Some of the intensifications occur at the employee level (choices they make to “return the admiration”) but oftentimes, it’s the employer increasing the workload with requests that can’t be achieved within certain timeframes.
To assure employees experience appreciation rather than grateful servitude, check-in. Go beyond project updates and work-related conversations. Leaders need to know what is going on with their people beyond just their work. For example, be sensitive to employees who travel extensively. Rather than engaging them in scores of meetings on their interest, give them some time to reconnect with family and recharge.
Remote employees are tougher to diagnose with burnout because you can’t see modifications in their personality on a day-to-day basis. Assure there is a process of monitoring in and being conscious of the signs.”
Chris Von Wilpert, Founder of Content Mavericks, has similar perspective and advice regarding remote employees working more than they should:
“Employees appreciate remote work and flexible hours because they get to work in the comfort of their homes. Because of this people using flex or remote policies often feel more grateful to their employers. That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to exert additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer.
Recent studies showed that a huge portion of the remote workforce is suffering from remote work burnout. Employees may not notice this which is why it's important for a leader to ensure that they remind their employers to take a break from time to time. So here’s our actionable tips we've done to address remote work burnout:
- Remind your employees to assess themselves. You can or let HR send an email blast to everyone providing information on what is remote work burnout.
- Send out an appreciation message to everyone for their time and cooperation in these challenging times. However, remind them to focus on work during their work time.
- Conduct bi-weekly or monthly meetings with your team and take this opportunity to ask how everyone is doing. Let them share their best practices and what they do after work. This establishes a connection to everyone even if they don't see each other.”
Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group, is a proponent of the fact that the solutions to remote work burnout don't lie with the employee but with management.
“Poor communications from leadership is a key factor in employee burnout. So, it's crucial that executives and managers, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, keep the lines of communications open, especially when your employees are working remotely and not in a traditional office setting.
Poor communications impacts employee engagement and causes burnout and stress by making team members feel removed from decisions and devoid of any sense of ownership. In many ways, poor communication – or a lack of communication – signals to someone that they’re not valued enough to be included. Poor communication can lead to role ambiguity as well as heightened stress or anxiety because of a lack of feedback which ultimately leads to, stress, burnout, talent drain or other symptoms of low employee engagement.
The best way to remove this stress and avoid burnout is setting a clear vision for employees, providing an understanding of why their work is valuable. Reinforcing the vision and goals through regular Zoom communication, both as a team and one-to-one, helps employees remember how their work furthers the organizations mission and increases engagement by making the work feel meaningful.
Communicating a clear vision and goals to employees allows them to understand how their work fits into a bigger picture and that they’re making tangible progress along the way. This keeps them engaged, alleviates stress, and lessens the chance of burnout by making their work and participation more meaningful.”
6. Notice what resonates with your people
Tim Brown, CEO and Lead Strategist at Hook Agency, has approached it in a way that’s unique to his people:
“I've realized I am sick of most of the 'things to do for culture remotely' ideas that we did early pandemic – but we have run a few 'contests' internally, and to be honest they work really well. We are a marketing company so ours will revolve around 'sharing a designed image on social media' (for your own personal brand or for the company) – with different prompts for the types of images.
Having something like this that encourages participation while also instigating people to sharpen skills that will help them in their life, keeps people's brains a little bit more fresh. That being said – we have a ton of the basics in place , we use OfficeVibe to get feedback (and take action on it), we do 1on1's with a leader every week, level 10 meetings each week per department and we allow unlimited time off, and have great camaraderie over slack. It still feels like a slog with so many people working remote, but in the end – keeping up on the basics is really important too."
7. Give employees space to pursue their “flow work”
Jeff Harry, International Speaker, a Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020 and Positive Psychology Play Consultant, encourages giving employees the freedom to pursue what brings them joy:
“Burnout at its deepest level is…the sum total of hundreds and thousands of tiny betrayals of purpose.” Richard B. Gunderman
Ask your staff how many decisions they make in a day that do not align with their purpose. Here is where burnout takes shape. As long as you can help your staff do work that aligns with their values and connects to who they are, they will be motivated to show up. You ask them to compromise the traits that define them, and they will ask why they are still working there..
Solution: Help your staff identify their Zone of Genius, the work where they forget about time and puts them in a state of flow
With 85% of staff right now saying that they are disengaged at work before the pandemic, and with staff only being able to do quality work for 2 hours and 51 minutes in an 8.8 hour day, managers need to understand how important work connecting to purpose is.
We have seen companies like Google, that have allowed their staff to pursue their flow work and the impact that it can have on the organization. Google's 20% rule gave staff 1/5 of their time to pursue work that interests them, as long as it helped Google. It garnered such innovations as Adsense, Gmail, and Google Meet.
Companies can give their staff an extra few hours per week to follow their curiosity and do work they love. Studies have shown that allowing employees to pursue their flow work can have a productive ripple effect on all their work. You are also giving staff a reason to stay, as you are now seeing them as human beings and not only cogs in the machine."
8. Interrupt bad patterns that feed burnout
Joshua M. Evans, CEO and Managing Director at Culture Consulting Associates, identifies burnout as being largely caused by mental fatigue, anxiety, and complacency.
“Here are some of the best ways we have been help employees re-engage, be more healthy and battle burnout:
- Pattern Interruptions - We suggest people make small changes to their routine to reset their ‘mental autopilot’. People often get caught in routines. These routines become a groove and eventually it becomes a rut. When people feel stuck they are much more susceptible to mental fatigue resulting in less productivity. By changing small things in your day like taking a different route to work, finding a different coffee shop, or moving the location of your desk it can refresh and rejuvenate people commitment.
- Mandate REAL breaks - People take a break from their work to refresh, the trouble is that most people will step away from their computer for a break only to pick up their phone. Breaks are meant to get someone away from a glowing rectangle, not move them to a smaller glowing rectangle. Man organizations we have worked with have instituted a mandatory REAL break. This means walking away from work and doing something that does not involve a digital device for 10 minutes for every hour worked.
- IDM - Everyone wants to feel like their work matters and the truth is it does. However, when continually being inundated with day to day minutia, it can be easy for an employee to forget what doing a great job means to those that depend on them. I urge people to take a step back and do three things. First, define what your role is. Next, list all the things someone in your role does. Finally, write down what doing a great job in your role means; what it means to your colleagues, your coworkers, your boss, your clients, your employees. When people realize that their work truly has meaning, it can help them overcome their challenges and find fulfillment in their efforts.”
9. Foster real connections
Eric Wu, Co-founder and COO of Gainful, a company that offers sports nutrition for everybody, brings up a great point about how interpersonal relationships within your company is a powerful way to promote mental health and reduce burnout:
“First and foremost, begin by encouraging employees to form personal relationships within the company. This is especially hard to do while everyone is remote, but we’ve found it more important than ever since we’ve added so much headcount during the pandemic at Gainful. It’s bizarre to join a company where most folks haven’t ever met in person, so we try to have small virtual social events to encourage people to feel more connected.
In addition, we’ve provided team members with a remote work stipend that they can use on everything from a new desk chair to a houseplant to beautify their workspace. Lastly, don’t forget to show empathy and understanding during this year, it’s more important than ever to realize that everyone is having a unique experience that may be more difficult than your own. Each employee is faced with individual circumstances; displaying gratitude and extending support is vital in maintaining a positive remote work environment. We try to encourage team members to take time off, even if they’re not traveling anywhere. A vacation is a time to unplug and recharge – you don’t have to fly to a beach somewhere to avoid burnout.”
Wesley Burger, Marketing Director of CloudTask, gives an invaluable reminder that companies should be attuned to all members of their team especially those that may not feel inclined to speak up on their own:
“Check in with the staff. Not all of the workers would let you know how they are going and what they need. Research reveals, for instance, that minorities are usually hesitant to reveal knowledge at work about themselves. In comparison, black people are more prone to face invisibility at work, implying that their words are less likely to be remembered and though they do speak up. But study, including my own, has shown that men hesitate to communicate the desire for family accommodation with their bosses, not just women and minorities that you should be attuned to. The development of an egalitarian remote culture begins with all workers being understood, then equal and reasonable accommodations are made. In and of itself, the basic process of communication will alleviate uncertainty and anxiety.”
Ideas for remote employee wellness programs
A huge takeaway from all of this is that employee burnout is preventable.
And when companies have health and wellness programs in place to support remote workers’ well-being across different potential areas of “life stress”, employee burnout becomes less of a threat to your company in the long-run.
Here are some remote health and wellness programs you can introduce to better support your employees and keep their total employee well-being a priority:
1. Partner with a caregiving platform
Since a leading concern for remote employees during the pandemic has been finding alternative childcare options when daycare centers have shut down, reduced their capacity, or managed exposures and quarantines, some companies like CommonSpirit Health, one of the largest non-profit healthcare organizations in the United States, have partnered with Care.com's Care@Work program to offer exclusive benefits to employees, like free premium membership and care credits, which be applied to the cost of caregiving or housekeeping services secured through the site.
You can demonstrate your commitment to families and work-life balance by exploring a similar partnership here.
2. Offer a flexible health and wellness stipend
As you've likely learned during your tenure in leadership, there are few benefits that speak to the entire population within your organization. Health, dental, and vision are often dismissed or undervalued by workers who are under 26 or who obtain coverage through a spouse's employer, for example, while paid maternity leave speaks only to women - and those who plan to have children, at that. Free coffee and snacks leave out your remote employees, and that population has likely grown in recent months.
A perks stipend can help you show employees in every demographic that you recognize their uniqueness and are committing to offer benefits tailored to their lifestyle, interests, and wellness needs. Compt is a great perks stipend vendor, giving employees the choice to use their health and wellness dollars on gym membership, mental health and meditation apps, massage therapy, gym equipment, yoga classes, and even workout clothes.
3. Implement an EAP
Organizations that aren't currently offering Employee Assistance Program benefits should explore partnerships now. The pandemic has interrupted diet, exercise, mental health, finances, access to healthcare, and more, putting undue strain on employees, their children, their spouses, and their marriages. Free, confidential counseling through an Employee Assistance Program can help your employees get the support they need to prioritize health and move forward. Ulliance is a good option.
If you do offer an EAP already, now is a good time to remind employees of their EAP benefit, including what services they have access to, how to access help when they need it, and what situations the program may be able to assist them in addressing.
4. Try a meal delivery program
Many employers have partnered with companies like DoorDash for Work to give employees access to free premium memberships, eliminating delivery fees when they order from local restaurants. This can serve two important purposes: it gives employees easier and more affordable access to prepared meals, so they have less responsibility at home, and it helps support the hospitality industry in the communities in which your remote employees live and work.
It's important to note that premium membership to meal delivery programs like DoorDash might seem insensitive if the majority of your workers are entry-level or low earners, because dining out may not be in the budget in the first place. This benefit is typically more appreciated among skilled and professional workers who are more likely to have budget for dining out periodically.
5. Provide easy access to wellness classes
The gym is a sanctuary for those who go, improving happiness, promoting strength, supporting weight loss goals, increasing energy, improving mood, and more. The pandemic has forced the closures and/or reduced capacities of gyms throughout the United States, and even as they have reopened employees have faced new barriers, like trying to work out with masks on or finding childcare so they can exercise.
One great way to give remote employees their gym access back while overcoming the challenges of the pandemic is to offer a free subscription to online fitness classes. Wellbeats is a good example.
Employee health and wellness has always been about more than offering your people a gym membership. But it's only now - when employee burnout is becoming so common and even damaging to company culture and business productivity - that companies are finally starting to take action.
Compt is the #1 employee stipends platform that gives your people the freedom to choose the lifestyle perks that are best for them and their always evolving needs, even when remote Interested in learning how Compt might benefit your company? Consult with our team or request a demo.