Burnout boom: Encouraging staff leave during the pandemic

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

RESEARCH: Remote working has now become a mainstay of the pandemic, and a permanent solution for some firms long-term.

Part of that has seen online communication platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet experience a boom in membership and use.

While this has certainly enabled greater and more flexible communication across and between teams, an unexpected issue has come about. Many employees are now suffering from communication overload, being connected to numerous work-based tools, throughout the day, and often well into non-working hours.

The boundaries have become truly blurred between work life and home life as a result. “Zoom Fatigue”, a catch-all term for having too many virtual meetings, has added to the current stressors people now face. Working from home, often from bedroom offices, has led to longer hours and difficulty in switching off.

More than four out of 10 employees say they are more burned out on the job today compared to a year ago, according to a recent survey of 2,800 workers from global recruitment firm Robert Half. One in four employees forfeited paid time off during 2020.

One of the biggest ways companies can support mental health is to encourage employees to take full advantage of personal time off, mental health days, and vacations, even when holidays as most professionals have known them are currently impossible. But so far, the opposite has happened. A large cohort of employees have opted not to take breaks and carry on working, even though they might be mentally drained.

The long-term impacts of this are still being played out, but it is already clear that this is not a “win” for HR teams looking to increase productivity at a difficult time.

Avoiding burnout in the workplace

The best companies — and the best individuals for that matter — are agile. They react quickly to changing circumstances and try new things. So if the typical strategy of vacation time isn’t working as a way of avoiding burnout, they attempt to work out what could work instead?

US-based dating app Bumble has joined a growing trend of giving all staff a collective paid week off. The firm effectively shut down temporarily so that staff could completely switch off from their work, after what it described as “an incredibly challenging time for everyone”. The US technology firm joined the likes of LinkedIn, SAP, Cisco and Google among the big names that have also offered company-wide mental health days in the eighteen months of pandemic-impacted business.

Many have found these company-wide mental health days are better for reducing employee burnout than traditional vacation days. This is because all employees take leave at the same time, ensuring no individual feels under any pressure to be online during the break. Emails won’t pile up from colleagues as they won’t be sending any.

During individual vacations, some employees feel they need to stay in the loop and check in with colleagues regularly. Others spend vacation time catching up on work, or managing their inboxes. Switching off from work for them is as stressful as working.

Company, or team-wide mental health days not only help avoid burnout, but also de-stigmatise the topic for healthy conversations across the organisation.

This feature is extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's report on Mental Health in the Covid-era Workplace. For further coverage, and access to the full report, please see any of the below links:

Pressure from all sides: Mental health in the Covid-era workplace (full report)

Pandemic drives increase in burnout (news highlight) October 15, 2021

Workplace mental health issue becomes a pandemic crisis (feature) October 18, 2021

Burnout boom: Encouraging staff leave during the pandemic (feature) October 20, 2021 Workplace mental health: How employers are responding (feature) October 22, 2021

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