Nearly a year after the Covid-19 pandemic closed most offices and as vaccination rates continue to rise, big companies speed up their reopening plans – at least in the U.S. However, the return to the office brings them in front of another big challenge; that of dealing with employee burnout.
Companies will have to take into account alarming data suggesting that people experience much worse the latest phase of lockdowns. According to psychologists, there is a rise in “pandemic burnout” as many of us find this second round of lockdowns and remote working harder than the first, with an increasing number of people feeling worn out.
A recent Ipsos Mori survey found that 60% of people in the UK find it harder to stay positive daily compared with before the pandemic – an 8-point increase from November – while a survey from Blind showed that more than 60% of employees feel burned out. At the same time, less than 15% said their company had a plan in place to alleviate stress.
Research by Walters People reveals 47% of bosses are concerned that the return to the traditional working routine will lead to a decline in mental health, while a third of companies fear their leadership team are not equipped to handle new ways of working.
“Pre-lockdown a culture of ‘the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be’ was really beginning to gather momentum,” said Phill Westcott, director of Walters People. “Lockdown has highlighted to employers and employees alike that increased flexibility, working less hours, and including more ‘me time’ into your working day can actually increase productivity, creativity, and overall work-ethic,” he added.
How will companies cope with burnout?
Taking into account the overwhelming data and fearing the risk of burnout upon return to the office, many big companies have already announced some steps to alleviate and keep their employees “happy”.
In a bid to combat burnout, LinkedIn gave its employees worldwide a paid week off in early April, as an opportunity to unplug and recharge. “We wanted to make sure we could give them something really valuable, and what we think is most valuable right now is time for all of us to collectively walk away,” said Teuila Hanson, LinkedIn’s chief people officer.
The company started to operate remotely more than a year ago as the pandemic unfolded and has been surveying its workers regularly. Last summer, the surveys revealed a shift in employee sentiment. “I think the reality of the weight of the pandemic really took its toll during those months. That was a heavy time. That is when we were seeing: ‘wow there is clear burnout’,” said Hanson.
Citigroup, on the other hand, has launched “Zoom-Free Fridays” as a way to help its burned-out employees cope with stress. “The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” Citi CEO Jane Fraser wrote in a memo to all employees obtained by CNN Business. Fraser, the first woman to lead a major US bank, explained the decision to ban internal video calls on Fridays came in response to feedback from Citi’s 210,000-person global workforce.
The announcement came just days after a dozen junior analysts at Goldman Sachs detailed horror stories of sleeping just five hours a night and enduring workplace abuse.
More than a year into the pandemic, one thing is for sure. In the fight against employee burnout, employers will have to find the balance between keeping their workers productive and well-rested.