Article: Employee burnout: Understanding and tackling it: Arjun Shankar, NIIT

A Brand Reachout InitiativeTheWellbeingWeek

Employee burnout: Understanding and tackling it: Arjun Shankar, NIIT

In this exclusive interaction with Arjun Shankar, Chief Corporate Management Services Officer at NIIT Limited, as part of the special Wellbeing Week by People Matters and Microsoft, where he reflects on increasing burnout at work, the suggestive measures, and the emerging role of collaborative tools.
Employee burnout: Understanding and tackling it: Arjun Shankar, NIIT

It used to be that working remotely was a perk. These days it’s about survival. 

People have seen their offices shuttered in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus, and their home is now doubling as their workplace. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, as the pandemic stretches on, more and more employees are becoming burned out, according to a recent pulse survey by Microsoft–The work trend index. 

Here are some of the stark finding from the study:

  • Lack of separation between work and personal life as negatively impacting their wellbeing
  • No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity
  • Remote collaboration is more difficult and remote meeting fatigue is real

Inspired by this research and in order to delve deeper into the landscape of employee wellbeing during the pandemic, People Matters and Microsoft brings to you “The Wellbeing Week”, an attempt to make employees thrive at work; be it a remote workplace, or a hybrid model, or the company headquarters.

Supporting this campaign with his thought, we spoke to Arjun Shankar, Chief Corporate Management Services Officer at NIIT Limited. Arjun leads the Human Resources function and Commercial Services portfolio at NIIT.  He has been with the NIIT group for over 28 years, having worked in different roles and business verticals like BFSI Education and Training, IT Education and Training, Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) business, Knowledge Solutions Business (KSB), and the Skills Training Business.

In this exclusive tête-à-tête with Arjun, we demystify the major burnout factors, his take on some of the findings from the Microsoft study, The work trend index, and NIIT’s efforts in creating a sustainable wellbeing strategy for its employees that helps them thrive at work. 

Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

Burnout at work is for real

In 2020, we are in a tougher business climate and social environment. From the business standpoint, organizations were in a difficult situation to find a way out to cope up with the challenges that were impacting business continuity and profitability. Remote working was the only resort to keep up the business continuity and overnight all businesses around the world irrespective of the industries they work in (except essential services) transitioned into a remote work model. 

In our conversation with Arjun Shankar, Chief Corporate Management Services Officer at NIIT Limited, Shankar shares that while most of us at an organization level successfully transitioned into the remote work culture, it did pose challenges at the individual level. Reflecting on the current challenges, he shares “Work from home led to increased screen time, leading to screen fatigue. Secondly, employees are feeling socially isolated due to the absence of physical interaction with peers, and most importantly in India, the household sizes and room arrangements are not appropriately suited for multiple people to work from home,  given the fact most of them are living with families, taking care of children and parents, and hence leaving them with little privacy to work with.  Electricity issues, lack of soundproofing and air conditioning, doorbells, lack of other infrastructure, etc. adds up to the challenges to remote working and hence mounts up the stress on employees. However, given the pandemic and the risks of intermingling, many organizations including ours have continued the work from home modality”. 

Creating boundaries at work

In our conversation with Arjun, one of the major topics that we touched upon was “diminishing boundaries.”

One of the major reasons behind the diminishing boundaries according to Arjun is the dependency on collaborative tools. He shares, “Today, organizations are using a lot of tech-enabled collaboration tools and they are inevitable to maintain continuity and productivity at work. Interestingly with these collaborative tools, the organizational structures have become flat. If someone wants to speak to one of their peers based in a different geography, all they need to do is check their calendar and share a meeting link. The flip side is that people are likely to get pulled in for meetings, pings, late hours work requests at any point of time and at any location, which should certainly be avoided.”

The above observation is in line with what Microsoft found in its study. Microsoft studied the usage patterns in Teams for more insight. Data showed that globally, even six months past the first work-from-home orders, people are in significantly more meetings, taking more ad hoc calls, and managing more incoming chats than they did before the pandemic. As people adjusted to remote working, after-hours chats, or chats between 5 pm and midnight, have also increased.

Furthermore, another factor that Arjun highlighted is the “lack of commute”. He says while lack of commute was something people celebrated in the initial days of the lockdown to avoid wasting time in traveling and being stuck in traffic, the commute time is actually now integrated into our work life. 

He says, “The commute time has become part of work life. Earlier, in India normally people typically had half an hour to one hour of time to switch from home to work or work to home. It gave them a buffer time to help them transition from fatigue, stress, and burnout to normalcy. Today, we don’t have that time.”

So how do you offer employees a mental space to thrive– free from stress, burnout, and meeting fatigue?

Arjun shares some of the practices from NIIT when it comes to addressing employee health and mental wellbeing. Looking at the challenges like increased screen time, meeting fatigue, long hours of working, he shares, “we recommend people to take breaks and have designed certain programs that shift employees focus from work to other forms of engagement.”

Some of the measures that NIIT has taken includes:

  • Trying to break work with regular interventions like CEO talk, Leader interactions, fun events, celebrations, and appreciation meetings.
  • Launching virtual health & wellness initiatives that offer our employees advice and lessons on–planning your day, time management, ergonomics, diets. 
  • We have partnered with companies to offer wellness activities on virtual platforms like meditation, yoga, etc. 

Arjun stresses the fact that it is mandatory to encourage your employees to take regular breaks through initiatives like he mentioned or taking the help of collaborative tools and technology which further can help employees plan their day.

In fact, according to a study by Microsoft, it was found that 6 in 10 people (61 percent) globally felt they were more productive when the digital assistant helped them ramp up to and down from work. On average, productivity increased between 12 and 15 percent. However, when we are talking about controlling screen time and virtual meeting fatigue, organizations need to carefully think about adopting the right technology. 

For example, Microsoft after assessing these concerns has built on a new virtual commute experience in Teams which will help workers have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening. Users can expect to customize their experiences from a set of suggested tasks such as meditation with the Headspace app, reflecting on the day, or helping workers close out on outstanding tasks.

Listen to your people and take real-time actions

As we closed the conversation with Arjun, we asked him about one step that he would take for his people at NIIT that will help them thrive at work. He shared that he would continue to listen deeply to the needs and concerns of the people and take real-time actions on it.

What better time than now to acknowledge the people’s concern and take actions for employee wellbeing. Make people thrive in a new world of work.

We thank you so much, Arjun for taking the time to talk to us about your experience, learnings, and your continuous efforts in creating NIIT a resilient organization.  

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Topics: TheWellbeingWeek, Corporate Wellness Programs, Employee Engagement, HR Technology

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