As companies and employees around the world adjust to new ways of working, new types of stress are emerging. Feelings of isolation, detachment from colleagues, a lack of routine, trying to keep children busy, and being unable to ‘switch off’ as the lines between our private and work lives begin to blur.
While working from home might start as a novelty, it also presents new challenges, which many employees may not be prepared to manage. As a leader, it is important to look for new ways to provide your people with surety, consistency, and routine – especially when the world outside is in chaos.
For many who wear hard work as a badge of honor and are used to 8 or even 12-hour days in the office, the risk to personal well-being and company productivity during these uncertain times is even higher.
If you combine the fact that a large number of folks already report feeling stressed at work, a new home-work environment could present the perfect storm to increase the pressure employees feel further.
Here are five easy changes any business leaders can implement to reduce the likelihood of employee burnout while maintaining performance during these challenging times.
- Encourage mini-breaks
Stepping away from the desk for even five minutes helps aid relaxation and focus. Danish students who were given a short break before taking a test achieved significantly higher scores than their peers who didn’t get any time to relax.
Encourage employees to step away from their desks, spend time in the kitchen making coffee or snacks as they would in the office, or take short breaks on their balcony or garden. Importantly, encourage them to eat a proper lunch away from their desks.
- Offer tailored work-life balance approaches
In many studies, women report higher stress than men, largely due to the dual responsibility of family and work. Our culture where women are ‘putting family first and themselves last’, causes women to feel constant pressure and home and at work, and many also feel that workplace wellness programs need to better address the needs of each gender.
During this period of uncertainty, these feelings of dual responsibility may be heightened. To address this, encourage an open dialogue with your employees about how they are balancing being at home with their families. As the old adage goes – a problem shared is a problem halved.
Also, ask your employees what you can do to help them balance their time so that they can tailor their priorities and tasks to best suit their personal home-work circumstances – rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Measure outcomes, not time
One of the vortexes we get sucked into in high-stress work cultures is presenteeism, the pressure to appear hard-working by arriving early or burning the midnight oil. In the current climate, this will manifest itself differently, but as a leader, it is important to view performance more broadly.
Consider an approach that includes employee feedback, goal attainment, and skill growth as measures of an individual’s contribution and overall performance. Strive to measure your culture in a way that enables your organization to assess and drive employee and team performance holistically across the company..
To build a high-performance culture while reducing employee stress, ignore superficial overtime and clock-punching, and base your measurements on an employee’s entire contribution to the company and its goals.
- Set limits on email and contact hours, and lead by example
The pressure to respond to emails outside of work hours is a major contributor to an ‘always on’ culture. With so many global companies operating in today’s world, this further increases the expectation of employees to be available out of work hours and on the weekend to account for correspondence with colleagues across international time zones.
Thankfully, a little boundary setting can go a long way. Ensure the whole company practices courteous consideration of time zones when booking meetings. Ideally, find a ‘sweet spot’ when all participants are already at work, and if this is not possible, introduce a policy of alternating out of hours calls to share the load.
Similarly, set standards around screen-free and email-free time and give your employees permission to switch off. To do this effectively, be an example. When business leaders stop checking their phones and making requests outside of work, employees will feel encouraged to follow suit.
- Introduce short meetings and block out days
Endless meetings can wreak havoc with time management and create the need for people to work overtime to get their actual job done. In today’s climate, employees face an even higher risk of meeting burn out. Few would argue that many meetings are inefficient, and at times unnecessary.
Try to limit time in meetings and keep them focused. Also, consider setting a ‘block out’ day every fortnight when no one is allowed to schedule meetings or events to give employees time to catch up. Doing this in the current environment will help to boost morale and reduce work stress.
There is no rule book when it comes to supporting employees through a global pandemic. We are all learning new ways of leading, working, and living our lives. But reducing work stress does not require major organizational change.
Making small, personalized changes that enable employees to balance work and home, measure the true drivers of employee engagement and performance, and lead by example in ‘switching off’, can make a big difference.