By Ruth Ballard
The rising popularity of flexible remote and hybrid workplace models has been lauded as one of the most positive workplace outcomes of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Many of us have benefited from having more flexibility in our schedules, having more autonomy with our own self-directed work, and enjoying the comforts of home (and the absence of a commute) more frequently. Remote work has had a positive impact on businesses as well, with many reporting increased productivity and growth during the pandemic. As flexible work models gain traction, employers are being reminded that satisfied employees produce better results and investing in your people means investing in your long-term growth.
But employees with flexible schedules are not without their share of stressors and need for additional support. In a recent survey of over 500 Canadian workers, results indicated that 38% of workers feel more burned out than they did this time last year, and 45% feel uncomfortable discussing feelings of burnout with management. The survey also illuminated a major issue impacting remote workers: 74% of employees with flexible, self-directed schedules are working more hours than they worked prior to the pandemic.
Several contributing factors can provide context to these results. For example, employees are reckoning with the increased amount of time required to keep up with communication channels. Video meetings scheduled back-to-back leave employees completing their work outside of scheduled hours. Remote work also presents challenges for employees trying to disconnect from a work mindset at the end of the day. As employees are not directly supervised, they feel an unspoken pressure to demonstrate they are working and managing their time effectively. As a result, employees and managers alike are overworking to the point of burnout.
According to another survey given to Canadian workers this Spring, nearly one-fourth of workers reported increased feelings of dissatisfaction, and three-fourths reported they saw their job only as a means to produce income rather than as a source of fulfillment. We’ve seen the results of this dissatisfaction already, as companies weather the impacts of the Great Resignation, losing employees and struggling to acquire new talent. As employees experience the inevitable burnout from overwork and lack of personal investment, similar challenges will continue to appear without action from employers.
Creating a Culture with Effective Boundaries
While tackling these large-scale issues will require a comprehensive, multi-pronged response, one time-tested measure employers can take to prevent burnout is effective boundary-setting.
“Managing the boundaries between work and life is a skill set people need and most didn’t have before the pandemic and still don’t. Simply handing an employee a laptop and downloading Zoom or some other collaborative software is not enough to help employees manage their work and lives through the pandemic and beyond,” says workplace flexibility expert Cali Williams Yost in this article from SHRM on the impacts of remote work. Yost’s point has only become clearer as flexible and hybrid models increase in popularity. The words “boundary setting” are thrown around as a solution without concrete and consistent support from workplaces. Employees at every level are told to prioritize their work-life balance, then receive messaging indicating the opposite when organizational stressors arise. To prevent burnout in the long term, employers must work with employees to establish a culture where boundary setting around workload is understood and expected. Creating this culture signifies an investment in long-term productivity and worker satisfaction. But how can a workplace make this investment without sacrificing its short-term goals?
To establish a culture of effective boundary setting, employers need to be consistent in their messaging, encouraging employees to speak up about difficulties and clarifying that work arrangements can be re-established as needed.
Lines of open and honest communication are key: when employers express clear priorities and employees feel they can speak up without facing judgment, everyone can focus their energy on essential tasks without risking unnecessary stress.
Perspective-taking can also play a major role in alleviating burnout. When managers both inquire about the time investment involved in assigned work and account for support and resources available to employees, they cultivate trust with their team members, who will be more likely to express frustrations before their performance suffers.
Workplaces can also implement smart uses of technology with burnout prevention in mind. While video conference and messaging tools enable remote communication, they can also fatigue and frustrate users when overused. Employers can encourage workers to schedule undisturbed work or break times to buffer meetings and prevent ineffective communication overload.
Lastly, employers can set appropriate boundaries of their own around excess workload by reminding employees of reasonable work hours and expressing that the prevention of burnout is a key priority, both to support the health and development of employees and that of the organization.
PowerUp Leadership specializes in growing leaders to inspire performance. To schedule a free consultation with CEO & Founder, Susan Power, and discuss PowerUp Leadership’s approach to strengthening your organization’s boundary-setting, please click here.