By: Ber Leary on November 4th, 2020

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How to Prevent Employee Burnout During a Pandemic

Risk Management | Employee Relations | COVID-19

Covid-19 has shown us just how amazing people can be.  

It’s not only the heroic frontline staff and essential workers who’ve put themselves at risk every day. We’ve seen it in our own teams too, who’ve faced massive disruption and just dealt with it. Every day, people come to work or log in from home, they focus on what they need to do, and they hit their productivity targets. It’s incredible.  

But without support, it’s not sustainable.  

Employee burnout is a problem that existed long before the virus. In any situation of prolonged stress, employees risk hitting an upper limit where they simply can’t go on. Employers have a duty to anticipate and prevent burnout, especially during a crisis like this one. 

Burnout in a time of Covid-19 

The pandemic has had some positive effects. Many people have found that working from home actually increases happiness and productivity 

However, an AP-Norc survey reveals that not everyone is thriving right now. A quarter of workers have considered quitting their job in the past few months, with 70% saying that they’ve struggled to maintain a work-life balance due to Covid-related disruption.  

This burden does not fall equally, with almost twice as many women (59%) as men (36%) saying that the pandemic has been a major stress source. The hardest-hit group is Black professionals, with 62% saying their stress levels have increased, compared to 47% of Hispanic and 29% of white workers.  

The move to remote working has meant longer hours for many, with 37% of workers saying that their workload has increased since working from home. Around 40% of workers say that they have felt burnt out as a result.  

5 Tips for Avoiding Employee Burnout 

The pandemic has created a situation where some employees thrive while others risk burnout. It’s a big test of leadership, but there are ways you can help ensure that your team emerges stronger from this experience.  

1. Listen 

The pandemic has affected people in all kinds of ways. Your team might be stressed about job security, or their partner may have lost their job, or they could be dealing with illness in the family. Alternatively, you might find that recent months have been great, that they’ve thrived while working from home, and they’re ready for additional challenges.  

Give your people the chance to tell their stories. An informal one-to-one is fine, but if you’d prefer a more structured conversation, you could conduct stay interviews with the team. Stay interviews work much like exit interviews, using the interview structure to talk about the role, their feelings about the company, where you’ve succeeded as an employer, and where you could improve. 

2. Help manage workloads

Even before the pandemic, 44% of job-related mental health issues were related to unmanageable workloadsNow, where workloads are increasing to meet the demands of the current crisis. Managers often have no choice but to keep piling work on – financial uncertainty means that we all have to try to do more with less.  

 You can help avoid burnout by assisting employees with workload management. Help them prioritize tasks using techniques like an Eisenhower matrix, which categorizes tasks as:  

  • Urgent and essential 
  • Essential but not urgent
  • Urgent but not essential 
  • Neither urgent nor essential 

You can then set expectations, so they know what they must deliver each day. 

3. Promote a work-life balance 

Covid-19 has shaken up our routines like a snow globe, creating new patterns that are both good and bad. For example, many remote workers found that they saved over an hour each day on commuting. But those same workers then had to deal with factors such as homeschooling, caring for unwell relatives, or wrestling with their home broadband connection. It can be stressful to try to schedule work and life commitments around each other.  

As a leader, you can help by implementing more flexible scheduling strategies. For example, many remote workers follow a windowed working schedule, which breaks their working day into two or three windows. For example, you might work from eight until noon each day and then spend the afternoon with family. Then you might complete your day from four until eight, giving you the rest of the evening to recharge.  

4. Conduct OSHA reviews on-site and at home 

Returning to the office during a pandemic can cause stressSome employers are effectively offering hazard paybut this does nothing to alleviate the genuine fear of infection. You can reassure your on-site staff by implementing reliable guidelines, such as those issued by OSHA. 

The main OSHA rules are:  

  • Promote handwashing and sanitization 
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette when coughing or sneezing, and encourage employees to stay home if they feel unwell 
  • Provide tissues and trash receptacles 
  • Adopt practices that limit the number of people in one space, such as staggered starting times 
  • Allow adequate social distancing space between desks  
  • Introduce a stringent cleaning regime using EPA-approved disinfectants 

If you follow these rules, people can focus on their work and not worry about the virus. 

Remote workers face a different set of health issues, namely that they’re not in an OSHA-compliant office. While OSHA doesn’t inspect home offices, there’s a chance that an inappropriate setup could impact employee wellbeing. Help them establish a compliant home office by making sure they have 

  • Ergonomic chair and desk arrangement 
  • Adequate lighting with no glare 
  • No cord clutter or tripping hazards 
  • No risk of fire or shock, and a fire extinguisher close at hand 

Everyone performs better when they have a safe, comfortable work environment, whether it’s at home or on-site.  

5. Bring teams together 

The pandemic introduced many workers to a new stress factor: loneliness. Our colleagues inspire and energize us, often in ways that we don’t fully appreciate until we find ourselves working from home, alone. Workplace loneliness has previously been described as a serious epidemic, and Covid-19 has made this worse.  

Remote workers are isolated at home, while on-site workers can’t mingle as they used to. To combat loneliness, you’ll need a multi-pronged approach with things like:  

  • Dedicated Slack channels for chat and teambuilding 
  • Regular videoconferences with the whole team 
  • In-person meetings if possible – you can stagger these in small groups to allow social distance 
  • Hybrid meetings to ensure that remote workers and on-site staff don’t become siloed 

This approach gives everyone a chance to connect. It also allows the whole team to keep an eye on each other and make sure that nobody is struggling. 

Teamwork is the best defense against stress and burnout. When we’re all communicating, collaborating, and supporting each other, we can get through any challenge.