As we approach three-quarters of a year under COVID-19, about two-thirds of employees feel burned out. If you think that’s an inevitability of life in a pandemic, think again. It is possible to reduce the effects of and potential for burnout. The key is to focus on how you manage employees, not on how – or where – they’re working.
A recent Gallup report noted:
“The main factors that cause employee burnout have less to do with expectations for hard work and high performance — and more to do with how someone is managed.”
It might be hard to accept, but if your employees working from home say they have difficulty unplugging from work, feel their workload is overwhelming or performance isn’t where they’d like it to be, that’s more your problem to solve than theirs.
Centrical conducted research into those very issues. The findings underscore the stress and strain employees are experiencing during the pandemic:
- 70% feel their workload has increased/greatly increased
- 40% say their productivity has been negative/severely negative impacted
- 28% attribute diminished productivity to distractions at home and technical issues
Organizational psychologists speak of an “unspoken agreement” that exists between employees. It’s an undocumented expression of the relationship between employees and their employer, and quite often, their direct manager. Unlike an actual employment agreement, this is often implicit, about expectations. For the most part, the pandemic offers an opportunity to rewrite that agreement in a way that underscores the need for trust between you and your employees. For that matter, between and among teammates. Without trust, the psychological bond that keeps individuals engaged and teams operating cohesively is broken. Causing your business to falter. This is a time that demands genuine, bi-directional communications. Such that your employees know – without question – you are listening. And you trust them to get their work done; wherever, whenever, however.
When employees’ workload is crushing, they look to you – and not just for sympathy. They need you to help them find a solution. As the Centrical research found, employees acknowledge their pandemic-created work circumstances have diminished their performance. And in many cases, that’s despite their best efforts. Evidence has shown even top performers slide down the productivity slope when workloads get to be unmanageable.
Employees, even those returning to the office, recognize roles and responsibilities will continue to change because the demands of the business, of the market it serves, are changing frequently and rapidly. They get it. Respondents to the Centrical study cited constantly changing processes, targets, and regulations as a top cause for diminished productivity.
As a manager, you need to discuss with absolute clarity what it is you expect of each employee. You need to collaborate with them to determine their goals and then how best to deal with any changes. When they know what’s expected of them, they can – and will – perform. No one can make meaningful progress if they’re operating in a fog.
Further, if you’re managing performance retro-actively in the current environment, the likelihood of burnout will be high. In a situation marked by lots of change, you must manage in the now. Drawing on the capabilities of an employee performance management platform that provides KPI data in real-time and makes that information accessible to all involved on an anytime, anywhere basis will help immensely.
Another cause for a drop in productivity – and burnout – is a lack of face-to-face time. One-third of those in the Centrical survey said that was a major contributor to lowered productivity; particularly as it relates to insight into overall team performance. Granted, with most of your employees working remotely it is a challenge to have effective one-on-ones. Nonetheless, a challenge that must be met head-on. When employees feel their managers have their backs, feel supported, they are 70% less likely to burnout. Interestingly, when employees feel unreasonable pressure or deadlines, 70% are likely to experience high burnout.
Burnout is not inevitable. And if some of your employees have experienced it – even to a consequential degree – it can be reversed. You see, it really is up to you to unburn them.