quarantine burnout
© Tetyana Kulchytska |

Alexandra Anders, Talent Director at Cornerstone OnDemand, shares tips on how employees and organisations can spot the signs of quarantine burnout and how to avoid it

With remote working in full force and essential workers extending their working hours to keep the nation moving, employers are faced with many different challenges every day. One hurdle that HR is seeing more frequently as social distancing restrictions continue is employees choosing to cancel any planned annual leave they might have in the next few weeks or months.

From the employee’s perspective, it makes sense – they might have a holiday that has been cancelled, or they might want to save their annual leave until later in the year to make it worthwhile. Some workers might also be taking up more hours because it gives them an opportunity to earn more money, depending on how they get paid. Whatever the reasons, there is a fear that further down the line they’ll experience something much worse – burnout.

The signs of burnout

The World Health Organisation recently categorised burnout as an official health condition so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whilst there isn’t a definitive diagnosis of burnout, it’s often described as a peak state of exhaustion, manifesting itself both physically and mentally. If an individual reaches the burnout stage, it’s likely that they have been experiencing signs or symptoms for some time, and with so much change and uncertainty going on right now, people are emotions are even more heightened and they are even more susceptible to burnout.

In a social distance or remote working scenario, managers may find it even more difficult to spot the physical signs of burnout. And it doesn’t just apply to chaotic job roles either, dull jobs can also lead to employee burnout too, because the lack of motivation or direction can be draining. That’s why it’s a good idea to schedule weekly or even daily one-to-one check-ins with employees to check progress on their tasks and ask how their feeling in general. If employees say they’re feeling tired or handing in work that isn’t quite up to their best ability, it could mean that they’re struggling, so check-ins can help mitigate the issues quickly before they reach the burnout stage.

It’s also a good idea to check-in with employee’s peers every once in a while, as some employees might be hesitant to talk about how they’re feeling with their direct line manager. Spotting the signs of tiredness, demotivation and stress early enough means that action can be taken before it gets worse.

Actions to avoid a burnt-out workforce during quarantine 

Whether your employees are already feeling the strain, or they’re worried about how they might feel further down the line without any annual leave or holidays, there are actions employers and managers can take to ensure the wellbeing of employees is monitored and maintained during these unprecedented times.

  • Change rules on annual leave

If you’ve found that the majority of your employees are cancelling annual leave because of cancelled holiday plans or otherwise, think about adapting the rules. Introduce early finishes or late starts and pro-rata from your employees’ annual leave allowance so that employees feel like they’re not necessarily ‘wasting’ their holiday days, and they’re also getting a break in the meantime. Setting out rules, such as every employee should take at least one or two holiday days off per month,

encourages the workforce to take breaks. Make sure this is monitored through your holiday allowance system so that you can oversee who is taking annual leave and who is not.

  • Adjust teams and priorities where necessary

Take some time to readjust priorities and workloads – if you’re in a position where some employees are furloughed or you’re working on a skeleton staff structure, the employees left behind may find themselves with an increased workload, which could increase stress levels. Be clear if you’re having to handover workloads, and check whether employees are confident and comfortable with tasks that might be outside of their normal abilities.

  • Let employees control how they tackle tasks

As managers, we might have a certain preference on how we like to do a particular task, but it’s not necessarily the right or wrong way. And we shouldn’t let that preference be the only preference. Think of it like ironing a shirt – some of us like to start ironing the sleeves first, then the front of the shirt, then the back, then the collar, whilst others might start with the back of the shirt before moving to the sleeves, etc. Either way you end up with the same ironed shirt at the end regardless of what you started ironing first. And it’s the same with some tasks at work. Employees will feel more pressured if they are told exactly, step-by-step how to do the simplest of tasks by their manager, whereas if you let the employee decide how to do it, albeit with some guidelines, it gives them more freedom to be more creative and less focused on ‘getting it right’.

  •  Build a virtual support system

If you haven’t already, schedule casual video calls with your team once or twice a day, and encourage employees to turn on their video. You can make them a free for all conversation, chatting about non-work-related things over coffee, or make them more interactive – maybe host a quiz or get employees to dress up as their favourite TV character. The idea is that you want to make an environment that’s open and fun, as if people are still in the office. It allows for a natural support network to be built, so that they are more open to talking about problems and issues if and when they arise.

Don’t assume that being fully remote means people have a better work-life balance. For some, it makes it all too easy to jump back online and do extra work. And not only can burnout impact employee’s wellbeing, but it can also affect productivity levels too. During this time, many organisations are prioritising the survival of their business, but it’s important to remember that people are at the heart of every business and are the ones who keep the cogs moving. Taking care of our employees and prioritising their health and wellbeing will be what truly help organisations through the coronavirus and beyond, so we must look after them as much as possible.

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