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8 Min Read

How To Prevent Worker Burnout In A Pandemic World And Beyond

December 3, 2020 / Unisys Corporation

The pandemic turned the world of work upside down. Yet many companies have done quite well at adjusting to the remote work requirement. This World Economic Forum article notes that the overall work-from-home movement "went remarkably smoothly." The WEF piece goes on to say that "most kinds of office work continued almost as if nothing had changed."

Meanwhile, everybody is talking about how productivity is going up and how many more things people are getting done. Research Prodoscore released in May indicates that worker productivity increased by 47% in 2020. That sounds great, but it is only part of the picture.

A closer look reveals that employee burnout levels are high. As a leader, it's important to be aware of this potential problem and work to address and prevent it.

Be Aware Of The High Potential For Burnout

You need to understand this and know that burnout is not unusual. Seventy-three percent of professionals the anonymous professional network blind (via TechRepublic) surveyed in April said they are burned out. That's up from 61% in mid-February.

Burnout likely isn't just happening in one or two departments; people across your organization are probably experiencing it. A recent Gallup poll indicates more than three-fourths of employees surveyed face burnout "at least sometimes." It says that long hours can contribute to burnout. But it lists lack of support and unclear communications from managers, unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads and unreasonable time pressure as the top five contributors to worker burnout.

Set Clear Objectives And Address Issues Along The Way

A talented young financial plan analysis associate at my company recently approached me with a serious concern. He said he was too young to be this burned out and that it had to stop.

I asked him how I could help. He said that I should tell certain people in the organization what associates need to do and stop doing. I did that because I want to make sure we dedicate our energies to meeting the business objectives the company established and shared in January.

If people are deviating from your strategic plan and assigning work that has nothing to do with reaching your objectives, you need to know about it. That way, you can take corrective action.

Take The Pulse Of Your Workforce With Regular Check-Ins

When you check in with your people regularly, you can understand their challenges and concerns. You can then use this information to remove barriers and to offer other assistance.

This is more challenging than ever in the work-from-home world, which limits opportunities for interactions. In an office, you could pass Bobby in the hallway, see that he looks stressed and ask him what's up. Now, you need to be more intentional about taking the pulse of associates.

This takes time and effort, but it is very important. As I mentioned in a previous Forbes article, organizations are organisms with heartbeats and rhythms. To get the best results from your business, consider and care for the emotional needs, health and well-being of your people.

Identify And Implement An Effective Pandemic-Era Operating Model

I've explained before that you should adopt the appropriate company structure to realize intended business results. Structure and policy can help accelerate your business, or it can slow you down. It can help you meet objectives, or it can act as a barrier and source of frustration and exhaustion for your people.

What makes us work too hard? Bureaucracy, complexity, unnecessary tension, mixed signals and lack of alignment: I believe these factors make the heart of the company work way too hard, which is why the burnout rates are at a high right now. If your people have to work 15-hour days just to get things done, you need to ask yourself whether your strategy and structure are as straightforward as you should have designed them to be. If not, you should change.

Ask yourself what operating model works best if pandemics become the new norm. If you want to rebound in 2021 and move your company forward, you must evaluate that. You have to be willing and confident enough to throw out, divest and walk away from old ways of doing things that no longer work in today's world and step into the world as it exists today and will in the future.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The phrase "work smarter, not harder" is overused. That's because there is truth to it.

If your heart rate is going to go up and down (you're experiencing anxiety), eventually that could harm your heart. Your heart shouldn't work that hard. And your people are the heart of your organization — just like the human heart. The harder they work, the shorter their lifespan at your company, because you can wear out the heart.

How do we save the heart of the company? How do we bring that heartbeat back down to a lower rate so that it's pumping blood more efficiently and we get longevity? These are all questions worthy of your time and attention. Answering and addressing them can give your business and your people a whole new lease on life.