The headline from a recent survey conducted by The Conference Board that nearly 60% of employees rank “Mental/psychological wellbeing (e.g., stress and burnout)” as their primary concern is likely a blinding flash of the obvious to most technology leaders. We’ve probably seen the increasingly haggard faces staring back from the other side of a screen and felt the same concerns as our staff in the face of increasing workloads and the continuing specter of pandemic-related uncertainty clouding all we do.
SEE: IT expense reimbursement policy (TechRepublic Premium)
Many organizations have responded with a veritable buffet of lunch-and-learn sessions about mental health, “virtual yoga” activities, cocktail hours and admonitions to take advantage of mental health benefits built into the company health plans. Yet, one of the most interesting elements of the aforementioned survey was toward the end, indicating declining participation in most wellbeing programs across the sample set.
Have we burned everyone out on burnout?
You probably don’t need a survey to detail how each of us has experienced burnout over the past year. From constant, low-level anxiety about the seemingly unending pandemic, to emotional highs and lows that whipsaw with each news cycle, to the barrage of virtual meetings with only seconds between them.
In many organizations, the well-intentioned response has been to offer a litany of wellness programs to employees. While this response is an attempt to be helpful, for many employees yet another barrage of calendar invites and leadership meetings that imply an obligation rather than a benefit are a source of stress rather than relief.
SEE: Juggling remote work with kids’ education is a mammoth task. Here’s how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
I found myself going from participating and engaging with wellness-related activities, to hitting the “Tentative” button with every intention of participating, to recently mashing the “Delete” button without much consideration of the content and intent. What was designed to be beneficial has quickly become yet another annoyance in an environment that feels like a constant barrage on our attention and time. An informal survey of colleagues and peers in other organizations indicates many of us feel the same way, and the declining participation numbers in the Conference Board survey seems to support the sense that many of us are simply burned out.
Think globally, act locally
The pithy rallying cry from the environmental movement to “think globally and act locally” is a relevant response to this emerging challenge. A centralized approach to managing wellness increasingly feels like yet another obligation to employers that have already asked for, and generally received, a great deal from their employees. Instead of another barrage of fireside chats, or mandatory no-meeting Mondays that create scheduling nightmares for anyone who interacts with external parties, acknowledge the core problems behind burnout.
SEE: Ireland gave all employees a right to disconnect. Now UK workers want one, too (TechRepublic)
If your company over-trimmed resources based on dire pandemic-related forecasts, acknowledge this fact and thank your employees for their hard work. Rather than admonishing overworked employees to take a vacation, while expecting them to remain reachable and connected, mandate that people out of the office should not be disturbed except in the case of an actual emergency. Give staff permission to stop doing low-value activities just because “we’ve always done it that way.” Perhaps even consider saying no to new or existing business that doesn’t generate significant revenue if your staff are already over capacity.
It’s no secret that it’s almost always less expensive to retain an existing, high-performing employee than it is to recruit and train a replacement. In many industries, the job market has rebounded at a surprisingly robust pace. If the best you can offer employees who went the extra mile during this challenging period is showering their calendar with more obligations, no matter how well-intentioned, you’ll likely see your top performers going elsewhere as the only option they see available to mitigate burnout. Don’t let your well-intentioned attempts to curb burnout contribute to the problem they’re supposedly meant to solve.