Employee burnout is happening. After six (seven? eight?) weeks of working from home and social distancing because of COVID-19, everyone is stressed. From employees to managers, no one on the ladder is immune to the psychological effects of the coronavirus.
Human resource teams are now tasked with navigating an increasingly difficult wellbeing challenge – how to help stressed workers. There are three categories of employees who are feeling the most pressure:
- Working parents
- Middle managers
However, there are ways to beat COVID-19 employee burnout. EBI spoke with a workplace culture expert who has some tips we can all use to help each other cope.
Unsustainable Home Life
We keep hearing a lot about the “new normal” the coronavirus has created. But there is really nothing “normal” about balancing work, parenting, school, household management, and personal enrichment all under one roof, day after day. The pattern is relentless, demanding, and exhausting – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
“Employees are used to having a certain set of social and psychological guidelines to operate within in their work culture. At home, as a parent, there is a different set of guidelines. When you’re blending the two things together, parents feel like they’re caught in the middle,” explains Troy White, founder and consultant at Upstream Growth Consultants, an executive leadership growth organization.
Employees feel like they’re disappointing their supervisors because they can’t produce the same level of output. Parents feel like they’re disappointing their children because they can’t give them the attention, education, and affection they crave. The problem is, the employee and the parent are the same person, and the result is a constant feeling of disappointment. That level of chronic stress is a key indicator of employee burnout.
Tip #1: Clear the Air – White says one of the reasons employees feel like they’re disappointing their employer is because they’re unclear about the expectations in this “new normal.” Although businesses received plenty of tips and guidance about the nuts and bolts of deploying a remote workforce at the start of COVID-19, not a lot of businesses received guidance about how to communicate a new set workplace expectations. And in many cases, no consideration was given to how working from home might affect an employee’s output or their emotional health. Now that we’re aware of the effects, says White, it’s time for employers to clear the air with their employees.
One thing we know about employees is that when expectations are unclear, they have questions. And the longer those questions go unanswered, that causes stress.
He recommends managers or supervisors first have a meeting with their team and clearly define expectations, productivity, and any other pertinent issues, and open the floor to questions. These aspects may have changed since the beginning of the coronavirus and it’s important to re-evaluate what’s worked and what hasn’t, both as a team and as individuals. White says managers should then follow-up with one-on-one meetings to really encourage employees to talk openly about their work from home struggles and collaboratively create effective solutions.
Social Isolation is Real
On the opposite end of the remote employee spectrum is the singleton. Whereas remote parents may be overwhelmed by too much stimulus and human proximity, people who live alone may be suffering from social isolation.
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Living alone is a choice many people make for many different reasons. But a forced isolation beyond your control can create a feeling of loneliness, and loneliness can be very harmful.
Loneliness among solo employees is also, unfortunately, mostly overlooked by employers focused on issues like staying afloat, retaining employees, and accommodating a remote workforce. However, employers must mitigate worker isolation before the short-term emotional impact turns into a long-running health issue.
Tip #2: Make a Connection – No matter how you feel about connecting virtually, technology has given us platforms to interact with each other. As this pandemic rages, employers should encourage the use of digital tools in collaborative and creative ways to stave off loneliness.
“Business are starting to realize the mental wellbeing of their employees is their problem. It directly affects performance and outcomes, and how successful a team, and ultimately, a business will be,” says White.
Here are some ways to encourage virtual connections to beat loneliness:
- Bi-weekly all-staff / departmental / team meetings
- Weekly chats of smaller, randomly selected cross-departmental groups that focus on non-work related conversations
- Weekly email with lists of fun and free things employees can do in their personal time
- Keep established employee engagement programs like book clubs and social committees running
Who’s Looking Out for the Managers?
Managers are caught somewhere in the middle of this burned out employee ladder. They are the liaisons between leadership and employees; often spending their COVID-19 days processing and diluting difficult Upper Management information, disseminating directives to employees, and listening to team members grow increasingly frustrated with working from home. Oh yeah, and these managers also likely belong to one of the other categories outlined above – stressed out working parent or lonely solo dweller.
"It’s hard to juggle all the asks and maintain the perception of control and direction," says RJ Frasca, Vice President of Marketing at EBI.
This juggling act between the operational demands from leadership and the psychological needs from their employees creates a unique situation most managers have probably not experienced before – at least not in a turbulent, unsettling pandemic.
Tip #3: Surrender – COVID-19 has created a feeling of being out of control. There is so much we don’t know about this virus and how it will continue to effect businesses and our economy. But no one can predict the future. The C-suite can help managers by relieving them of this expectation to always say the right thing to their team.
“Leadership isn’t about always having the right answer and knowing exactly what to do. Managers have to be told it’s okay not to know,” says White. “Leadership is about understanding, adaptability, and confidence in your ability to find an effective solution. Until then, let your managers know it’s okay to figure things out as they go.”
A wonderful thing happens when managers are freed of this emotional burden to maintain a perception of control and encouraged to be vulnerable – they build trust with their employees. This shared experience creates empathy among team members and reminds everyone we’re all in this together.
EBI recognizes the difficulties we’re all facing in this challenging COVID-19 environment and admires the innovation, perseverance, and flexibility employers and employees the world over are showing.
Employee burnout is real but if we remain open about our struggles, we hope we really can adapt to this “new normal.”