“Long hours don’t make anyone more productive. They make people stressed, tired and bitter.”
– Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle, Ezra Klein
The coronavirus pandemic is a clear recipe for employee burnout. Today’s workers are dealing with furloughs, pay cuts, an unprecedented global financial crisis, and a state of constant change and uncertainty. Some are juggling full-time jobs with full-time childcare. Many are struggling to adapt as their employers pivot to adapt to new market realities.
Worse, life under lockdown means that many of our usual sources of stress relief – gyms, exercise classes, meeting friends – are out of bounds.
Small wonder then that the current mood for many teams is “war room fatigue”.2 Now that the initial adrenalin rush has worn off, employees are entering a ‘regression phase’.
“People get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things like eat or drink — or they eat and drink too much,” reports Wedell-Wedellsborg, an organisational psychologist.
Burnout in remote teams
Even without the issues caused by coronavirus, burnout is a real risk for remote teams. Part of the problem is technological – those endless beeping notifications are hard to walk away from. The remote workday has no natural beginning and end, resulting in employees feeling like they are “always online.”
There’s also the psychological factor. Today’s employees suffer from what Derek Thompson calls “workism - the idea that work should be the centre of our lives, our identifies and our society.”3 Today’s knowledge workers can see their job as a kind of ‘higher calling’ that gives meaning and value to their lives. Even leisure time is supposed to be ‘productive’!
This mentality can be dangerous. If work becomes your identity, then burnout becomes a badge of honour. Overworking is merely a sign of your commitment to your “vocational soulmate.”
And, because managers can find it harder to gauge the mood of the team from a distance, the risk of ‘workist burnout’ increases. If you don’t see people looking exhausted or skipping their lunchbreak, you might not realise that they’re doing too much. It can be easy for busy managers to assume that no news is good news – that if people aren’t actively complaining, they must be totally fine.
So, what can you do about it?
Now would also a great opportunity to define your expectations around remote communication. How will you make sure that nobody feels lonely or isolated? How will you avoid overwhelming people with too much communication?
To ensure your employees manage their time well and avoid overwork, you need to model communication best practice yourself. This means using asynchronous communication where possible.
At Learn Amp, we use our own platform to self-record and share video messages. This avoids meetings, which add time pressure to interactions, and long emails that are difficult to read.
Finally, make sure you stop sending emails at 1 in the morning. Your employees may feel like you expect them to follow your example.
If you’d like to find out more about how to communicate and collaborate remotely, watch the recording of our workshop: How to facilitate powerful online collaboration.
2. Check their pulse.
Never assume that no news is good news. It’s much harder to tell if your team is feeling overwhelmed or burnt out if you can’t see their faces.
Quick “pulse surveys” can be a great way to keep an eye on how things are going. Ask questions and listen to your team. Then take quick action before minor issues turn into major problems.
At Learn Amp, we use our own inbuilt pulse survey feature to make sure that we can listen to our remote team and take action quickly to help everyone stay happy, healthy and motivated.
3. Promote employee well-being.
To prevent burnout, you need to be proactive. Here are a few ways to actively promote your remote employees’ well-being:
- Isolation can be a major cause of burnout. Virtual coffee breaks, conference call breakfasts, even a Friday afternoon online happy hour, can all help to reinforce a sense of community and help remote employees feel like they are part of a larger group with a shared purpose.
- Insist on breaks. Set minimums for break times. Make sure your employees are stopping for lunch. Encourage them to take leave when needed. Not only will this promote employee well-being, research suggests that it will increase productivity and innovative thinking.4
Putting the right measures in place will help your team move out of the regression phase and into a “recovery phase,” ready to take on whatever the future may hold. By setting boundaries, communicating your expectations, and providing support, you will not only avoid team burnout – you may find overall productivity and morale soar.
Are you interested in finding out more about how Learn Amp can help your remote team communicate better? Watching the recording of our workshop: How to facilitate powerful online collaboration