In a survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 40% of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at work directly because of the pandemic.
"This is not surprising, given that 37% of employed respondents say they are currently working longer hours than usual since the pandemic started," the survey said.
What can employers do to keep burnout at bay? Here, three employers share their stories.
Signs of Employee Burnout
Jolene Caufield, senior adviser at Maryland-based Healthy Howard, acknowledges that work has become more challenging during the pandemic, with fatigue and de-motivation being the most common issues raised with managers and human resources.
Caufield has noticed that burned-out people unconsciously isolate themselves from others. Burned-out employees "were pretty easy to spot because it showed on their skin and in their actions," she says. "Fine [facial] wrinkles became more defined, and there was a sudden sagging, and an older-looking effect evident when they're stressed."
Cheery people began to close up, and active people "acted as though there's something wrong no matter how many times they say they're fine," she added. Productivity rates also dropped.
At UK-based TradesmenCosts, CEO David Shell identified other signs, such as missed deadlines and responding late to Slack or Skype messages. He says burned-out employees also take more leave than usual and consistently show less enthusiasm.
Akram Assaf, co-founder and CTO of Dubai-based Bayt, noticed exhaustion and agitation.
"There were internal conflicts over little details," he says. "The overall engagement with new projects and optional activities was down, with people unwilling to share feedback. That's usually a sign of something external influencing the team dynamic."
Assignments also took longer to finish, "and that was the final sign that employee burnout was fully operational."
How to Deal With Employee Burnout
So, how did these employers deal with burnout?
Assaf says the first thing they did was clarify expectations. "[Our employees] understand what needs to be done and what their responsibilities are," he says. "We don't want to overburden with all kinds of tasks."
Next, they tackled training. "Well-trained employees are less likely to burn out," he notes. They then established a list of tools that help reduce employee workload. All the while, they emphasized the importance of work/life balance and encouraged employees to speak up about any work-related issues so management could resolve them promptly.
"Listening and acting on employee feedback is key as it helps boost overall morale as well as productivity," Assaf says. "Our teams now work 100% remotely. It's very manageable with the proper use of collaboration and communication tools. We built a perfect remote setting for minimizing employee burnout."
At Healthy Howard, Caufield says they turned to incentives and perks. "Giving out hygienic kits is a hit, especially due to the pandemic," he says. "Who wouldn't be happy with free stuff?"
This was also the perfect time for the company to "implement an open-door policy to let employees know management cares for their mental health. Once they realize that, they will surely overcome the burnout and de-motivations in no time."
Shell dealt with employee burnout by taking these steps:
- Discuss employee burnout. "We acknowledged the problem, took time to virtually sit with employees, and talked to them," he says. Everyone watches out for everyone else to spot burnout signs. They enquire if they think something is bothering someone, then find solutions together.
- Maintain balance. "I treat everyone equally and focus on becoming a leader who backs his employees," Shell says. "Here, we boost each other's morale, confidence, and trust. I reassure my employees they can trust in me and I trust them."
- Provide autonomy. Autonomy equals flexibility. "I have control while increasing [employees'] engagement," he says. "We ensure we work on our times without compromising our tasks. All of us achieve team goals while enjoying independence."
- Appreciate employees. Being cooped up at home drains and frustrates us all. "Our team acknowledges that appreciation helps people feel valued and that their work has paid off," Shell says. "We congratulate everyone for their milestones, no matter the size."
- Bust the stress. "Stress can be a plague," he says. "We combat it by providing ample breaks, making time to eat with each other at least once a week, and letting employees enjoy music during our lunch where we sing songs and ask each other how our weeks went."
Another way of dealing with employee burnout is to contact a local employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs give employees access to counselors and other professionals who can assist in seeing them through stress in a healthy way.
Whatever you do to help your employees work through the pandemic, they will take notice, and your efforts are likely to pay off in increased morale and productivity.