Burnout – New Solutions to an Old Problem
Although even before the current pandemic, burnout – a work-related condition that is caused mainly by the accumulation of physical and emotional stress – was a common problem for companies, both among early-stage employees and managers of powerful teams, the pandemic amplified the phenomenon by putting a spotlight on it. However, this also brought forth new solutions that have been adapted to present-day needs.
According to a July 2020 survey conducted by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) in the United States, 75% of employees surveyed have stated that they have experienced burnout, of which 40% have directly associated it with the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, burnout was a natural consequence of overnight changes affecting companies everywhere. The sudden shift from the regular 9 to 5 schedule to remote work did not give employees the time they needed to adjust to the new normal.
From one day to the next, many have changed the open-space office to the loneliness of a studio apartment or the chaos of an apartment where, in many cases, several generations live – parents, children, grandparents – all with different habits and schedules. Many had to improvise workspaces in the most uncomfortable corners of their house and enter Zoom sessions with the continuous stress of possibly being interrupted by children who want attention – since they associate their parent’s presence in the home with their free time; by bored pets that are ready to play, or by the ruthless drilling heard from their neighbors.
But an empty house is just as harmful to a person’s mental and emotional well-being, because as the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, man is a social animal, who to a certain extent depends on the interactions he has with others. Another extreme has been represented in the last year by employees who, despite the risks posed by the pandemic, were forced to continue going to the office – either because their activity depended on their physical presence or because their employer was unable to find an effective channel to communicate with the teams, thus avoiding the need to physically monitor their work to make sure they are performing their tasks correctly.
All these scenarios can lead to burnout, but other factors contribute to the increase of this phenomenon as well. A friend exasperatedly told me that in recent months he has had several meetings a day, including some in which they set out details for subsequent meetings. And that’s merely one example. Petty pride, which leads to lack of communication between team members or, conversely, excessive communication, micromanagement, emails sent or received in one’s spare time, WhatsApp groups blowing up with notifications at any hour of the day or night, deadlines, the stress caused by the risk of losing your job are, in turn, elements that bring us to the brink of burnout. Moreover, these are factors that also affect those close to us – our family, life partner, as they turn them into passive consumers of all the worries that take a daily toll on us.
Beyond the private sphere, on an individual level as an employee, these factors also have a macro impact, because they contribute to a team’s lack of productivity, which automatically generates weaker results and failure to achieve a company’s goals, translated into lower financial results, which in turn maintain the vicious circle around overworked teams and dissatisfied management.
What to do?
First, let’s acknowledge the problem. To ourselves, to our family, to the employer, or our subordinates. Without open and effective communication, long-term solutions cannot be sought.
We also need to disconnect: by taking a walk in nature, having a game night, having a romantic dinner, or just taking time for ourselves, during which we do not check our email and turn off the notifications coming from workgroups. We need to interact with others, to share moments of joy, our worries, and successes, and doing that not only through messages, and not only on Zoom.
And, of course, one of the most obvious solutions is to change the work environment, the work regime, and/or pace. Employers need to understand that remote is not just about working at home, and productivity is not only possible when working from the office or between the 9 am to 5 pm timeslot. Often, a coworking space with minimalist decor, a café imbued with the scent of Brazilian coffee, or a spacious lounge with comfortable armchairs stimulate employees’ creativity more than the stuffy open space of an office, or a workspace set up in a bedroom corner.
How did you overcome the challenges of the last year?