Almost two years into the global pandemic, burnout is having a moment. We all thought we’d be back to normal by now, but we’re facing another surge that may keep us consigned to working from home and a severe case of Zoom Fatigue (for which there is no vaccine.)
Managers who are dealing with employees whose performance is slipping often fall prey to a classic attribution error: they blame the behavior on the person rather than the system they’re trying to manage. Managers may actually be causing some of the burnout they’re trying to deal with, says Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO, Disaster Avoidance Experts, writing for Training Magazine online.
“These problems come from organizations transposing their “office culture” norms of interaction to working from home,” he writes. “That just doesn’t work well. Virtual communication, collaboration, and relationships function very differently than those in-person.”
Many managers are uncomfortable talking about feelings, and many workers worry about discussing burnout. But the need to connect is a deep and basic human need; it’s essential to our well-being. For many workers, the social connections they form at work are part of why they stay on the job. Tsipursky says community and social bonds contribute strongly to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Without them, it’s hard for workers to stay motivated. It may even be hard for them to focus or make effective decisions.
Here are some suggestions for preventing burnout in remote employees.
- First, Tsipursky writes, collect information. Gather information from your employees about their virtual work challenges. Run surveys and do focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Use these to get quantitative and qualitative data on the virtual work issues in your organization. Use the information to determine what is causing stress and how it’s affecting your team.
- Make sure your team has the technology tools they need to work successfully from home. Include questions about internet connection, screen size, and how collaboration tools are working in your surveys. Invest where it’s needed to help workers be productive and minimize frustration over tech issues.
- Spend some time talking with your workers on how it’s natural to miss social connection and how everyone feels burned out at times. Help them set healthy boundaries between work and home life and let them know it’s important to set limits on how many hours they work. Some people might be worried that if you can’t see them hard at work, you might not trust that they’re putting in their best effort. Others may just have trouble turning off at the end of the day. Make sure you are explicit about your expectations and encourage your staff to leave work when the day is finished.
Respect (and grant whenever possible) requests for flexible schedules. Many workers are managing more than just their jobs: they may be w
- working around partners or roommates, dealing with children, or caring for family members who may be ill. Say yes when you can to adjusted work schedules – and no only when it’s critical to the project.
- Support your team by providing training in how to communicate and collaborate virtually. Zoom fatigue is the result of having to focus much harder on reading the room. It’s harder to read nonverbal signals over video screens, and easier to think someone’s not engaged. Provide resources on how to frame your camera setup and how to look at the camera so you seem focused and energetic. And eliminate unnecessary meetings or those without a clear purpose.
It’s harder to see the signs of burnout when you’re not together in the office, so as a manager, you’ll need to be more vigilant and ask about wellbeing more often. If not addressed, burnout can take a toll on physical and mental wellbeing, and of course, lead eventually to costly turnover. Check in with your staff before they start to check out.