Preventing employee burnout as COVID-19 persists into 2021

Not only has 2020/21 meant we have had to grapple with the perils of “You’re on mute”, “I can’t hear you, your wifi is down”, we have also had to navigate ourselves through a pandemic that has disrupted global businesses and economies. All the while living through a time where we are perhaps the most isolated from our loved ones than we have ever been before.

We’ve noticed that with the third (? I’ve lost count!!) lockdown we’ve seen an increase in our employees burning out, which given the circumstances above is not surprising and something we know many businesses are also facing.

It’s a challenge that, like many businesses, we had not anticipated. Our HR team and managers have learned a lot along the way about how to avoid burnout:

Leading by example

Arguably the most important way of avoiding burnout is to lead by example. Three aspects that have worked well for us are:

Have informal interactions

We’ve found that informal interaction and communication are key to avoiding burnout.

Why not try hosting daily “stand-ups” with your team? The important feature of these “stand-ups” is that they are regular, predictable calls that establish some normality and structure. They are a forum in which your teams can bring questions and concerns to the table. One thing that is also great about these stand-ups is that the invisible has also now become visible, with dogs/children/family members appearing on Google Hangouts calls – which has shown a human side to us all that is so valuable in a largely transactional virtual world.

Respect working hours

Think before you ping! Or email! If you are about to send an email outside of someone’s working hours, switch on the scheduling feature so you aren’t encroaching on someone’s personal life. 

Encourage breaks

Actively encourage your teams to take breaks throughout their working day. In a virtual world it can be easy to find yourself in back-to-back meetings, and wondering when you’ll be able to grab a drink or go to the toilet. Why not start using Google’s “speedy meetings” calendar function so that you have breaks between meetings and encourage those you are working with to adopt the same habit?

Regular 121’s

A huge cause of stress can be ambiguous and ever-changing goals. At Brainlabs our managers use a weekly 121 matrix to structure their catch-ups. Some of the most useful parts of the matrix include:

  1. Making sure deliverables, expectations, and deadlines are explicit and actionable.
    • Ensure your direct reports understand what your expectations are, you’re regularly checking in on progress, and you’re providing feedback when improvement is required. Provide examples of what success looks like and also give them a chance to tell you what their expectations of you as a manager are.
  2. Ensuring you’re using them for both wellbeing check-ins and also to provide work structure.
    • With teams now dispersed it’s important to get face time with your direct reports as well as providing written follow-ups.
  3. Asking how they are doing, and really mean it! If in doubt ask again. If you are consistently getting the same answer to the question try mixing it up:
    • “How can I better support you?”
    • “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve encountered this week?”
    • “Is there anything I can do to support you and your workload this week?”
    • “What can I do to help?”
    • “How are you finding working remotely?”
    • “What is one thing I could do right now to make your week better?”

Encourage time off

One of the final tips is to encourage time off: take a step back, put the laptop down, don’t reply to that email that comes in at 8 pm because, at the end of the day, we work in digital marketing, the world will continue turning and tomorrow will bring another day!

With lockdown restrictions, many of us have been resisting booking time off in order to save it for later in the year when the restrictions are hopefully lifted. Consider introducing an additional holiday day for all employees to truly take a break from work, and ensuring managers communicate about time off with employees to normalize holiday-taking.

Final thoughts

To summarize, lead with humanity during this period. As individuals, we are all juggling a thousand different tasks and emotions that a year ago we weren’t aware we would be facing. So be kind, lead with empathy, and remember to switch off and take a break yourself!