Have employees been working more ever since the COVID-19 outbreak?
In a recent survey, 70% of Australian workers highlighted that they feel they are working for free beyond their scheduled hours, with the average Aussie worker completing over 7 hours of unpaid overtime per week.
ADP's survey People At Work 2021: A Global Workforce showed that one-third (33%) of Australian workers say that they are either maintaining productivity, managing workload or managing stress has been their biggest challenge since COVID-19 began
25% of workers say they are taking on additional workload or tasks resulting from concerns around their job security.
Moreover, employees are feeling insecure about how they are being judged for their different working styles, demanding flexibility, or prioritising health above work.
In the survey, 40% of Australians shared that they feel as though employees are judged for taking advantage of flexible working arrangements. 78% of Australian workers would prefer to be mainly working from home in the future.
Why 'solving the burnout crisis' is critical for business?
Alex Phillips is the co-founder of Saint Belford said, “When employees are overworked and exhausted due to unrealistic expectations, more sick days are taken, productivity is impacted and the whole team suffers. Other members of the team often have to carry the burden which only perpetuates the cycle of burnout.”
In fact, if you follow the various reports on the great resignation, propelling in the west and slowly getting to countries in the Asia Pacific, a major reason for employees quitting is burnout.
As Alex points out, “Burnout may also prompt talented employees to search for a workplace that places a stronger focus on employee well-being and work-life balance.”
Burnout leads people to dislike their dream jobs and the tasks they were once enthusiastic for, start draining their energy.
“As an individual, burnout sucks the joy out of anything you do at work. Even the simplest of tasks all of a sudden becomes a duty whilst your energy is spent trying to make it through the next hour,” added Amanda Rose is the founder of Small Business Women Australia, Western Sydney Women and Western Sydney Advisory.
The bottom line is: Businesses that don't prioritise employee wellness will struggle to retain employees long-term.
Leaders’ role in minimising burnout at work
“Get to know your employees and keep an open and honest dialogue with them so you can tailor your management style,” suggests Alex.
The roots of burnout lie deep within the employee’s perception, their own working style, their expectations and aspirations.
Alex highlights how some employees experience burnout, not due to the workplace culture, but due to self-imposed expectations, feelings of incompetence and a lack of feedback from management. Leaders need to understand how some of their teammates may need a little more reassurance about their work efforts. There will be others on your team that may struggle to uphold their own boundaries, Alex suggests, nudge them to leave work early or on time.
In addition to that leaders need to be mindful of the workload each employee has and can handle.
“Every manager/leader needs to be self-aware of the workload they are giving their team. Routine and structure are important in the sense of understanding where they are at with projects and their ongoing commitments,” said Amanda.
Not everyone can manage the same amount of work. You must know what works best for which employee. Amanda warns, “Don't assume everyone is gifted at time management or project management, many life skills aren't taught and can be the difference between a well-managed employee to one who ends up down the road of burnout.”
Leading by example: Modeling self-care habits
As we observed in the ADP survey, employees are feeling insecure about how they are being judged for their different working styles. It is important to set the right example and create a culture of well-being across hierarchies.
The best thing leaders can do is set an example and normalise breaks.
“Create a culture that prioritises employee well-being. Employees need to be reminded that rest is important and taking breaks doesn't make them lazy or unproductive,” said Alex.
Leaders need to consistently model self-care habits like taking lunch breaks away from the desk, turning off email notifications after work, implementing boundaries, leaving work at an appropriate time and taking annual leave.
Alex believes that employees will tend to follow what is considered "normal" in the workplace, so if these habits are modelled regularly, it's likely they will follow suit.
Amanda echoed the same thought and added, “If your team sees you working 18 hour days they will do the same. If however, they see you place importance on health and fitness whilst also being strategic in not wasting your time, they will most likely follow suit.”
Being proactive: Creating a healthy working ecosystem
Pinot & Picasso Founder, James Crowe describes burnout as a funny one.
James said, “I consider the side effects to force people to not work at their complete capacity (especially in the creative space) - the classic ‘lights are on but no one’s home’ probably looks a little like autopilot, with a higher margin for error in all endeavours.”
As different ways of working and diverse work models intertwine, it creates complexities for employees and leaders alike to manage work and life, altogether.
“I think the biggest contributor to burnout (especially during lockdown) has been the inability to separate work hours and home time. With everyone stuck at their home office, there’s no physical barrier (leaving the office and heading home) put up once the EOD rolls around. As our business grows specifically higher demands are placed on team, so the appropriate rest (emotional, sensory, and creative) aren’t respected as much as physical rest,” said James.
The problem lies in the way we work and perceive success at work. It is time to break old patterns and set new examples.
“I find regular check-ins are really important. Pushing employees to put up boundaries around their day,” added James. He suggests, simple but impactful practices like no meeting hours, actually taking a full break for lunch away from their desk paired with a regular exercise routine and diet can help.
Many companies have in fact adopted some of these practices in the last one and half years. For instance, Salesforce introduced mo meetings Friday and Wellness Days off. As part of, Volunteer Time Off: Employees are provided paid time off (56 hours a year) to give back and volunteer and a generous matching policy (up to $5,000).
Deepa Narayan, Vice President, Employee Success, Salesforce India said, “The past year has brought about rapid and remarkable change that has fundamentally changed the way we work. While this has presented plenty of challenges, it has also created new opportunities for companies and employees alike to be more innovative, find more balance, become better leaders and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”
But is introducing new initiatives and workplace benefits enough? While these are necessary measures, real change is observed in daily conversations.
As Alex puts it, “Ultimately, managers who are familiar with the 'normal' behaviour and habits of each employee will be in a better position to monitor and minimise burnout."
For example, if employees are staying back and working beyond normal business hours or suddenly taking more sick days, that can be a cue to assess workload, check-in with those employees and provide additional support.
Watch out for those early signs of burnout and have conversations with your people. Identify their challenges and learn from them what support they are looking for. To bring self-care into practice and truly nudge your employees, Amanda suggests, you can even add to the staff KPI's a component of self-care. A fun yet practical way to get people to think about ways they can balance their day/week.
Share with us if you have more ideas to tackle workplace burnout.