Employee burnout is a psychological process typically caused by excessive workload and long hours. It is not a new phenomenon. Organizations have, in the past, identified and remedied employee burnout through culture enhancement and employee engagement. The second wave of the pandemic has severely jolted the complete social and economic fabric in India. The sense of lack of control over one's future, fear of illness and financial insecurities has made the situation worse. Presently organizations are grappling with heightened employee burnout across levels. The pandemic has fueled these feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and cynicism to a great extent. This burnout is a composite of workload, blurring professional and personal boundaries, physical isolation, increased domestic responsibilities, fear of the virus, and added feelings of depression and anxiety. Organizing professional counselling is important but not sufficient. Organizations will need a multipronged approach to save the day.
Bridging the gap
It is important for the employees to know that they are not going through the feelings of burnout and hopelessness in isolation. Leaders need to open about their feelings which could in-turn humanize the current situation into a shared human experience. This will help lift off the weight from the employees and help them align with the circumstances and encourage them to hope for a better tomorrow. Leaders need to take up more responsibilities to build long term relationships with team members, encouraging regular check-in, and empathetic conversations. Leaders need to communicate continuously, even if it is over-communication. The nature of the communication should be authentic and optimistic thereby creating a positive atmosphere for people to thrive in.
Make space for some downtime
The second wave has enhanced the insecurities of survival of businesses, one of the ways many organizations are countering this is by trying to achieve more in less. This puts extra pressure on the vulnerable groups. Excessive work pressure and looming deadlines can disengage employees from work leading to increased error margins, sick days, and performance issues. Clear definition of hot-hours and break times ensures proper spacing of meetings and prohibits impinging on personal time. Mandated team downtime and ritualistic team connection beyond work allow employees to connect with each other outside of work deadlines and deliverables increasing employee engagement. Such guidelines will help in improving positive emotions resulting in improved performance.
Plan for specific needs
As organizations develop solutions to help their employees through these difficult times, an important aspect to consider would be that one solution cannot resolve issues for the entire workforce. An organization is an amalgamation of diverse people and depending on the specific needs of each of the employees, organizations can design practices that can help address the specific needs. These solutions can cater to specific age groups, gender, demography, level, economic strata, and so forth. Targeted approach would help organizations develop focused and sustainable solutions.
Articulate clear performance expectations
According to a global study, one of the leading reasons for burnout at the workplace is unclear performance expectations. The drastic shift in the working environment, even though it has been around for over a year, has created confusion in what is expected of the employees. This confusion often leads to miscommunication and stress between leaders and subordinates. Employees work best when they know what is expected out of them. Articulating expectations via documents, emails and regular conversations with the employees will help leaders convey this to their teams, therefore avoiding confusion.
Help them find their purpose
A recent Gallup survey** states that one out of every three employees globally is looking for a purpose to fulfil their work aspirations. Especially millennials define their passion for their work with the difference their organization is making within their communities. During the extended lockdown many of us have also been forced to look at our life’s purpose. HR professionals can communicate empathetically with employees and support them through the process. As you align your organization’s purpose with your employees, you increase their level of engagement and therefore commitment to their work. This helps in mitigating the burnout as it sparks passion within the employees.
Help them draw work and personal life boundaries
The prolonged pandemic has meant that we have continued to work from home with added domestic responsibilities well into the second year. This has also meant that we have extended ourselves beyond what we imagined our lives to be. As the work has continued to grow, the lines between work and personal life have blurred. HR Professionals need to make sure that team leaders know the adverse effects of asking their employees to be ever-present. Organizations can develop policies that empower employees to draw this line, and train leaders not to cross them. While the line has blurred for all of us, making a conscious effort to make that distinction is needed.
Employee Resource Groups
A support group within the organization that helps employees talk through some of these concerns can go a long way. A peer support group, made from like-minded people from within the organization, can be more accessible to employees who may fear speaking out within their teams or to their supervisors. Through these groups’ organizations can encourage the messaging of self-love, encouraging employees to take care of themselves. Separate interest groups can be formed like reading, yoga, creative endeavors, pet care, etc. Creating such groups within the organizations keeps employees engaged and cutting through workplace barriers.
Volunteering for providing support
Many organizations started funds, helplines for beds / oxygens, and other medical support for their employees during the second wave. At this time, organizations must show their philanthropic side by creating a network of support systems that spans from physical, financial, mental to moral support. Helping employees sail through the pandemic through the second wave and the impending third wave is very important. This will be the differentiator for organizations to become the next best place to work and an employer of choice.
Employee burnout can cause employees to be disengaged, increase error rates, and impact productivity, causing organizations huge costs. HR professionals need to tackle this issue head-on and lead their organizations to address this as a business need. The most effective direction would be to integrate a people centric approach that helps employees thrive in a positive and encouraging environment.