The post-pandemic office: how to prevent burnout

Businesses and employees alike have embraced remote work in lockdown. In a recent survey by Fuze, the Flex Study, which included over 2,200 UK workers, found that 67% of UK respondents said they feel engaged at work. More than half (52%), meanwhile, believe they are now more productive than they were pre-pandemic. But for many, working at home has brought its own challenges. Burnout is now more likely to be driven by COVID-19 and self-isolation, and the solution may be complex as organisations continue to operate post-pandemic.

As offices start to reopen, hybrid work models are introduced, and pandemic anxiety lingers; businesses must address the mental health crisis facing their staff. The coming months will be stressful for employees: not only will they need to establish their comfort level for returning to physical workspaces, but they will also have to find a new balance between their personal and professional lives.

Businesses need to demonstrate that they understand the difficulties their employees have endured, by openly communicating and by offering hybrid work models that are truly flexible.

Recognise the burnout issue

The burnout we’re seeing now is as unique as the year we’ve just lived through, and there are several contributing factors. According to the Flex Study, almost a quarter of employees found themselves working longer hours while remote. Work often brought a welcome sense of normality, and provided distraction for those lucky enough to continue working, but the longer hours took a toll on many employees. As many as 37% of employees admitted to not taking a break of at least 30 minutes during their average work-from-home day.

Burnout can stem from an inability to disconnect too, with 60% of UK respondents stating they are unable to switch off from work. Of those, 23% are anxious about getting caught up on work, 22% are distracted and still looking at their phone and 15% feel a sense of guilt.

As businesses decide how they will work in the future, they will also need to address video fatigue as another root cause of burnout. Video calls have been the main tool for engaging with colleagues and customers over the past year, and many find this mentally exhausting. To create a more balanced schedule, businesses must set clear expectations about which meetings should be conducted via video, and which meetings can be audio only, as well as promoting meeting-free days altogether.

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Keep employees informed

The past year has been one of uncertainty, and as offices reopen, there will be countless questions about the future. To avoid losing employees’ trust, or even risk staff churn, businesses will need to be as transparent as possible while they decide on office re-openings and a hybrid work strategy that allows for at least some remote work long term.

Involving employees in the planning and allowing them to play their part in creating a new hybrid work model can reduce the stress that so many employees understandably feel about the ‘new normal’. They will be more engaged, more motivated and empowered by their options.

Communication and listening to employees’ needs and concerns is key. Approximately two thirds (67%) of UK workers would consider finding a new job for greater long-term flexibility, so a mandate to return to the office full-time could result in considerable attrition. Managers should avoid communication that suggests staff will be expected to return full-time in the short term – and instead, deliver a clear vision of how the business will operate flexibly in the future.

Don’t forget about work-life balance

Without the daily commute, working remotely should, in theory, give employees more flexibility in scheduling both work and private activities – to incorporate exercise, parenting responsibilities and social interactions into their working days. However, with longer working hours reported during the pandemic, many have found it harder to juggle their professional and personal lives. According to staffing business Walters People, 74% of employees feel that their managers need to be more empathetic to work-life balance, and 52% say their employer needs to have a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing.

As lockdown ends and we get used to a mix of remote and office-based working, employees will want the flexibility to create a healthy balance, and employers should support this. To prevent further burnout, those working at home will not only need a schedule with sufficient breaks built in, businesses should also encourage employees to switch off their phones, stop looking at their emails and log out of collaboration tools outside of their working hours.

The majority (77%) of UK respondents in the Flex Study believe that flexible working should not be a benefit, but an integral part of how we work. Over the last year, some workers have taken the opportunity to move further away from their office locations, embraced a different lifestyle, and are planning to spend a lot less time in the office than before.

Those organisations that foster a truly adaptable work culture will acknowledge that needs and preferences evolve. They will permit employees to adapt how they work as their circumstances change throughout their career – trusting them to create a solution, helping them set boundaries between work and personal life and communicating openly. As we move into the new world of hybrid work, those companies that address the current burnout issues and listen to the needs of their employees will ultimately be the ones that thrive.

Written by Lisa Walker, vice-president of brand and workforce futurist at Fuze

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