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Friday, April 19, 2024

Help your team beat work-from-home burnout

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By Bobbi Thomason

Despite the appeal of turning our calendars to 2021 and putting 2020 behind us, the new year has not immediately swept away our “new normal.” Zoom meetings, remote classrooms and virtual offices will continue for some time.

Though critical to surviving the crisis, the adjustments we have had to make are taking a toll on employees, particularly women, people of color and those with caregiving responsibilities. Indeed, burnout—defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”—is at an all-time high.

Given the fact that mothers, more often than not, are shouldering the increased responsibilities of caring for children throughout the pandemic, it comes as little surprise that 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from burnout. In fact, working mothers are 28 percent more likely to experience it than working fathers. While research shows that nearly 100 percent of managers rate themselves as supportive of employees with families, only half of their subordinates agree.

Pandemic fatigue can result not only in low productivity, anxiety and stress for workers; it’s also a contributing factor in the exodus of women from the work force fueled by Covid-19. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 2 million fewer women in the labor force in November 2020 than a year earlier. When women are pushed out of the work force, it harms not only progress toward gender equality, but also their families, who rely on their income, and their country’s economic growth.

Covid-19 is also having a disproportionate impact on people of color, including in the workplace. For example, Black and Latino workers are more worried than white workers about their employment. Their concern is well-founded: People of color are at greater risk of losing their jobs not only because they tend to work in industries with high risks of layoffs like retail and hospitality, but also because most companies put them at the top of their layoff lists.

Some experts project that the remote work trend is here to stay: Many employees are expected to remain remote workers in the post-pandemic world. Leaders have a responsibility to consider the experience of their workers most affected by work-from-home burnout and to create an inclusive remote culture that can benefit the entire organization.

There are three steps you can take to protect employees from burnout—during and after the pandemic:

Check in on your employees

Not all employees are going to let you know how they’re doing and what they need. For example, research finds that minorities are generally reluctant to share information about themselves at work. Furthermore, Black women are more likely to experience invisibility at work, which means that even when they do speak up, their comments are less likely to be remembered. But it’s not only women’s concerns whom you should be attuned to; research, including my own, has found that even men hesitate to express the need for family accommodations with their employers. Creating an inclusive remote culture starts with hearing out all employees, then making fair and appropriate accommodations. The simple act of communicating in and of itself can relieve ambiguity and anxiety.

Offer flexible—not just remote—work when possible

Working from home doesn’t necessarily include flexibility. Some companies, for example, insist that workers continue to be at their computers during regular work hours, just as they were in their physical offices before the pandemic. Plus, the average workday is almost an hour longer than it was before the pandemic. While some tasks and decisions need to be completed synchronously, leaders should consider whether all tasks and decisions need to happen this way. Allowing for some asynchronous collaboration will give employees the flexibility to manage their multiple responsibilities (as most of them currently are). Flexibility can bring a bit of sanity and comfort and become a competitive advantage for an organization.

Pay attention to time and mental breaks

Rotating meetings between times that are convenient (and inconvenient) for each location is a best practice for globally distributed teams, so that no one group gets the luxury of the 11 a.m. meeting or the headache of the 11 p.m. meeting each time. Even if your team is all in one time zone, you may want to borrow this practice. Also, while working from home may make it seem like employees are always available, it’s important that they schedule time to be “off.” Taking breaks and switching tasks not only recharges us, it also improves creative thinking and reduces burnout. Leaders have an opportunity to encourage all employees to take recovery time, especially during these periods when workers’ struggles might not be readily apparent.

The pandemic has followed us into 2021, and remote work is expected to remain a norm both during and after it. Employers increasingly have the responsibility to ensure their employees’ well-being and to take proactive steps to make operational changes. By paying attention to those workers most susceptible to pandemic fatigue and burnout, leaders can build better organizations for all of their employees.

Bobbi Thomason is assistant professor of applied behavioral science at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.

Image credits: By Ketut Subiyanto | Pexels.com
Read full article on BusinessMirror

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