Are our work-from-anywhere tools causing burnout?
Work in 2020 went remote for most of us, heightening the value and solidifying the importance of having top-notch unified communications (UC) tools within organizations. Whether you need UC or not is no longer a question -- it’s simply a new requirement. Near compulsory.
Unified communications can virtually eliminate the distance for distributed teams, ensuring employees across all departments remain connected at all times, from across town to the other side of the globe. Having top-notch collaboration tools available within a single interface boosts productivity, engagement, and employee experience. But could these tools actually be contributing to burnout?
What about the demands of having to sit on video calls day in and day out? Or having to be available on the workplace chat 8+ hours a day? UC tools are great for productivity, but they can be taxing, too. The demands of work in 2020 can be exhausting -- physically and mentally. Widespread burnout is happening. Leaders (and we as employees) must be mindful about battling burnout as this ongoing pandemic has no clear end in sight and working-from-home (WFH) is seemingly here to stay for the long haul.
Burnout can happen when WFH - quite easily, in fact.
The lines around our work and home lives are more blurred than ever. Our workdays and our responsibilities at home have merged. How do we balance video conferencing with helping kids complete their schoolwork at the kitchen table? How do we balance personal time when tasks at work can stretch into the late hours of the evening? How do we battle the constant temptation to check emails on a Sunday? It’s not easy. Unsurprisingly, many people are feeling burned out this year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized burnout as an "occupational phenomenon” last year, listing identifying signs and symptoms as:
- Lack of energy or exhaustion;
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy
I was personally hit by burnout last month. As a long-time WFH veteran, I had been chugging along the entire year, working hard, and seemingly doing great. I subconsciously knew I wasn’t making enough time for exercising. I had slowly stopped taking as many walks and bike rides with my kids. Friends had stopped video calling me spontaneously as they did early in the pandemic, and my patio lunch breaks had all but disappeared. I suddenly felt chained to my desk; I was moody, losing track of tasks, and generally unwell. How and when did that happen? And what was I going to do about it?
Set boundaries and limits. Set a schedule, too.
One of the most attention-grabbing articles I came across recently was titled How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole on Wired. The author encourages people to shut off their laptops, their phones, and their tablets. . .to say “no” to the nonstop barrage of notifications and reminders and interactions.
People: don’t try to be “always-on”. Managers: don’t expect them to respond outside of their established hours. Working remotely doesn’t mean working 24/7. Set clear expectations for communication, availability, and weekly responsibilities. Since our new ‘offices’ are literally our homes, we must resist the temptation to log onto work and respond to messages again and again.
For many, their former commutes were used as a time to decompress. To clear their heads. To relax. To prepare for giving their full attention to their spouses, pets, or families once they arrived home. To think about dinner plans or listen to an audiobook. And so on. But now the commute is gone, and that time of day is erased. Work feels continuous. While I haven’t had a real commute in many years, the 8-to-5 boundary has been erased now that my colleagues are working remotely too. It made me realize we all need that time to reset, formerly in-office employees and digital nomads alike.
An article in The Muse describes the added pressure of feeling like we have to present our best “happy face” at work - literally so, given all our video meetings. An employee in Boston spoke of it as “living in two worlds”: the “video world” where we have to expend emotional labor and present the positive, productive side of ourselves at work, and then life on the other side of the screen, where all of us are in the middle of a pandemic and struggling.
Here are a few suggestions for combating stress when we’re working and living in the same space. (If you’re the boss, pass it along to your employees!)
- Review this practical advice for working remotely that I wrote early on in the pandemic.
- Establish (or re-establish) a firm start and end time to your day.
- Set aside time on your calendar for meals and breaks. Drop the guilt. It’s ok to take a lunch break!
- Practice self-care. Bake those activities into your daily schedule.
- Have ‘zero meeting days’. Designate time to accomplish your recurrent and lingering tasks, and refuse meetings on those days.
- Mark the end of your workday with time to decompress. Think of it as your commute.
- Use your PTO. Yep, even if you’re not going anywhere. Make a plan and make it fun.
- Control what you can: your food, movement, and sleep.
We can reduce stress and find joy while remaining productive.
A new poll found Americans are the unhappiest they've been in 50 years. Let’s make it a priority to find new paths to joy during the pandemic, both at home and at work this season. Check out these 7 tips.
And, remember, if the technology you’re using to WFH feels like more work, it probably is. It’s a good idea to see if you can consolidate and simplify. Too many people are still using one application for internal chat, one for video meetings, one for customer care and telephony, and so on. Ease of use isn’t enough; it should all be streamlined and unified into one UC solution, not a productivity nightmare. The importance of flexibility extends to communications, too.
I’m confident that intentionally combating WFH stress, streamlining and setting boundaries around technology tools, and searching for new ways to be joyful while stuck at home will trickle down, positively affecting our work satisfaction and engagement. Here’s to breaking the cycle of burnout together.