With lockdown remote working blurring the boundaries between our professional and personal lives, employee burnout has been pushed to worrying heights. In fact, at the start of this year almost 70 per cent of workers had experienced burnout symptoms while working remotely, while OSiT’s latest research found 37 per cent of people were struggling to unplug from work at home.
Just as restrictions are easing and businesses begin to plan for their pandemic recovery, there is a real risk that a new epidemic in employee wellbeing could compromise business growth and harm people’s wellbeing for the long-term.
However, with the UK government calling for a “gradual return” only to the office over this summer, we share our top advice for businesses and employees who are continuing to fighting burnout at home.
#1 – Set boundaries
Even prior to the pandemic, mental health-related absence was the most common cause of long-term sick leave in UK workplaces, while work-related stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 54 per cent of working days lost in 2018/ 19.
Covid-19 has exacerbated this further, with blurred work/life boundaries and a sense of being “always on” seriously compromising employee wellbeing. In a recent survey by OSiT considering the wellbeing impacts of remote working, over half (51 per cent) said their mental health had been negatively impacted by WFH.
‘UK workers have increased their weekly hours by as much as 25% during the pandemic’
So, while organisations such as the Mental Health Foundation have advised business leaders to stay in daily contract with workers, it is vital that this is the right kind of contact. Check-ins with your team are an important way to cut through the isolation of home working, but these must focus on people’s wellbeing needs, rather than workplace performance.
Indeed, UK workers have increased their weekly hours by as much as 25 per cent during the pandemic, with many reporting a sense of obligation to respond to out-of-hours emails, which they hadn’t previously felt working from an office environment. Ultimately, to avoid a toxic culture of presenteeism, employers should lead the way – encouraging all colleagues to schedule non-urgent work emails for the next day and advocating for a “hard stop” when people sign off.
#2 – Have options
Young people have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic – especially in terms of their wellbeing – and many have been left working from cramped rooms, shared spaces or without a suitable and professional office set-up. Under these conditions, it is sadly not surprising to see a rise in burnout and disillusionment at the earliest stages of people’s career.
A change of scene can be one of the most valuable tools in your armoury when fighting burnout. However, without giving desk-based staff the option to work somewhere other than home, businesses are only providng “false flexibility” for their teams.
To truly address this, businesses should offer employees the choice to work from flexible office space and alternative locations, such as cafés or co-working centres, as often as is necessary to meet that individual’s needs. Turning to flexible workspace operators – who can provide contained office space for a flexible capacity and number of days per week – could be the ideal solution as government guidance calls for a staggered workplace return.
#3 – Take control
A sense of control is a powerful antidote to burnout. Without steady schedules, the line between work and personal time can become increasingly unclear, encouraging presenteeism and making it harder than ever to switch off.
People should feel empowered to follow normal work and sleep patterns, and to maintain consistency around these. Scheduling in commute time – regardless of whether you’re heading to the office or the living room – can provide that all-important distinction between home and work life.
Setting to-do lists and keeping an eye on your workload can also create a better sense of calm and control. Nonetheless, it is important that businesses build an empathetic company culture in which people understand there is no shame in asking for support – especially when faced by additional stresses or personal commitments, such as childcare.
#4 – Practice good recovery
Just because someone is present, it does not mean they are productive. Home working has left employees feeling that they need to be available constantly, but making time for breaks is a crucial way to manage stress. Furthermore, home working has also meant far less time moving our bodies and far more time leaning over laptops, which can also be detrimental to physical health.
In fact, regular pauses and time away from screens can aid recovery between tasks and ultimately boost productivity. So, employers should take note. By setting up in-person and virtual events – such as yoga sessions, coffee mornings and team-building days – employers can deliver a company culture that both recognises, and benefits from, the value of proper breaks.
Working from home has, undeniably, left people feeling burnt out and unable to unplug from work. With legal restrictions now easing following more than a year of lockdowns, it is no surprise that people are itching to return to the office. In fact, according to recent research by OSiT, just 5 per cent of workers want to work remotely on a full-time and permanent basis.
For many, and especially those at the start of their career, the WFH experience has left them feeling isolated, demotivated and increasingly disconnected from company culture. So, as businesses look to recover from the pandemic, it is crucial that leaders build good flexible working strategies – fighting burnout at its root causes and offering people all the in-person benefits, work/life boundaries and community that we depend on from the office.
Niki Fuchs is managing director of Office Space in Town