In 2019, the World Health Organization described burnout as “a workplace phenomenon and syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." The WHO furthers elaborates burnout as being characterized by:
- Chronic exhaustion and feelings of energy depletion,
- Alienation from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job, and
- A feeling of professional inefficacy.
The covid-19 pandemic enforced a sudden exodus of the workforce to remote and isolated working. Work from home, which was once a perk used by very few companies, became status quo at almost every organization across the globe. This unforeseen and unplanned shift to remote work brought with it several challenges for companies, managers, and employees. The starkest of these challenges, especially relevant given the health uncertainty of the pandemic, was the nurturing of employees’ well-being.
In physical work environments, even when this involved a solopreneur at a cafe or coworking space, there is a clear demarcation between work and personal life. Workers enjoyed the luxury of switching between different personal and professional lifestyles that provided clarity and boundaries not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. When the world shut its office doors and public health guidelines prevented the operation of public spaces, workers found themselves in a matrix of blended work and personal life, with no room for breaks or boundaries between the two.
The pressure of having to qualify work when workers’ efforts towards a project ran the risk of going unnoticed led to remote employees searching for opportunities to continuously prove that they were engaged, committed, and actually working. For small businesses and solo entrepreneurs, the blurred demarcation between work and life, combined with a pressure to do meaningful and productive work under unpredictable social circumstances led to a prevalence of the “always-on” culture with workers staying digitally plugged into their work without meaningful downtimes.
For everyone, the removal of communal space to gather and work also led to increased loneliness, isolation, depression, and anxiety. This psychological stress acted in tandem with socio-economic-health stressors to send mental health indicators to alarming levels during the peak of the pandemic.
Identifying symptoms of burnout demands dedicated and kind leadership. Be it a one-person team or a large startup, burnout costs companies more than just business dollars. It robs people of morale, creativity, and productivity. Hence, it is critical that everyone pays attention to the everyday behaviors of themselves and the people around them with an intention to being a mindful and empathetic leader.
Burnout is usually noticed when there is a dip in morale which leads to lesser productivity and engagement. Are you or your team dealing with a prolonged sense of anxiety or resignation? Is there a tendency to disengage from work or is there increased tardiness and lesser productivity? Are you feeling apathetic to your goals or is your team showing signs of weariness and cynicism? All these emotional indicators could point towards a larger problem of burnout.
Burnout also manifests in how individuals go about their day-to-day activities. Most commonly, previously held good health habits take a toss and are traded for unhealthy coping mechanisms. Previously emotionally intelligent individuals can show tendencies of unmanaged negative emotions such as anger, discontent, or emotionally charged responses for unwarranted situations.
If you notice these symptoms in yourself or in your teams, it’s a good time to acknowledge that there might be a larger cause for the behavior and take steps to manage and nurture your teams and yourself back to a healthy state of mind.
Work from home environments do not stipulate work hours which leads to teams working after work hours, often extending into late nights or early mornings. This leads to exhaustion and poor health habits that catapult into severe burnout. Pay attention to individual work allocation and use a data-driven understanding to manage workloads efficiently.
Work-life balance is critical in ensuring the sustainable performance of individuals. Whether you manage one or ten or more employees, adopt habits that allow people to switch off from work every day and find things to do with family, friends, or even activities that can be important for alone-time. Encourage breaks while at work, especially during long meetings, such as taking a walk or just stretching in between calls. Simple steps lead to big gains in productivity.
Isolation is the biggest harm to come from work from home or remote work. Employees are isolated from their colleagues and management, and in some cases, social isolation due to the covid-19 pandemic adds to the work isolation. Create virtual communities for employees to find people with similar interests and shared goals so that creativity can be recharged.
A common effect of remote or distributed work is a tendency to stay “always-on” where employees are digitally connected 24*7. The interconnectedness of digital technology in our everyday lives has led us to develop impulses that prompt immediate email responses or obsessive checking of calendars or messages even when not working. Impose guidelines for individuals to help them switch off from work and take moments without digital technology. This allows rejuvenation of employees and reduces stress. Another hugely productive practice to adopt is deep work, where employees are encouraged to allocate focus time slots for concentrated work with built-in breaks that promote digital unplugging.
When people work towards a purpose, they work with commitment and efficiency. Creating a shared goal and purpose for teams and individuals will allow employees to focus on the larger picture, and bring joy and passion to their work. This positivity will create a long-term effect on stress and exhaustion at work.
Whether you’re managing a team of 1 or 100, it is important to stay tuned in to the well-being of your team in order to build a sustainable, resilient, and growth-focused team. Modern work analytics platforms, such as Hatica allow teams to get an enlightened viewpoint into several factors that might stress the well-being and productivity of workers. The intelligent insights that Hatica delivers can be used to not only identify or manage burnout but also to identify anomalies early in order to strategize long-term solutions and success.
What’s more, Hatica is free to use for small businesses. Come, take a look! We’d like to partner with you to build your success story.
This article was originally published at Coda.