Pandemic fatigue is upon us as we start our second year of working and living under the cloud of COVID-19. Many companies that have survived are focused on doing the work. Focused may be the wrong term since lack of focus is one result of the fatigue.
The pandemic has muddied work boundaries. Workweeks and workloads have increased as have employees struggling with anxiety, depression, and burnout. Gallup’s recent report, Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures demonstrated workweeks that average more than 50 hours significantly increase burnout, and there is another substantial rise in burnout at 60 hours.
A study by Clockwise that optimizes calendars for companies including Spotify, Slack and Asana saw how COVID-19 was impacting workers’ schedules. The average workday increased by 48 minutes. Meetings increased, including video calls which are more challenging physically and mentally than face-to-face. The increase in meetings led to more fragmented time and a decrease in time to focus.
The term burnout has been around for fifty-years. Burnout has recently been added to the International Classification of Diseases which acknowledges it as an organizational problem. Burnout is a symptom of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Exhaustion and cynicism are predictors of burnout.
Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers, and Michael Leiter of Deakin University established six causes of burnout including unsustainable workload, perceived lack of control, insufficient rewards for effort, lack of a supportive community, lack of fairness and mismatched values and skills. This team points out we have tried to combat burnout with self-care when the solution lies with the organization.
We all need a sense of grounding. People who supervise others not only require grounding and clarity, but they are also in a position to deliver it. Clarity of direction helps others feel a sense of purpose. Short-term goals can provide grounding and direction especially when they are reviewed frequently. This way employees know exactly what to work on and when priorities change.
Have ongoing conversations about work especially if performance appraisals have become one of the casualties of COVID-19. Develop an ongoing conversation about short-term goals to facilitate support, reward effort and align values and skills. It’s a positive ongoing interaction about achieving the goal; clarifying, refocusing, and celebrating conversations.
Start with clarifying priorities to establish a manageable workload. Ask questions and listen to ideas to enhance the perception of fairness and autonomy. Agree on short-term goals and agree on having an ongoing conversation about the goals. Allow people to be comfortable being themselves, be open to ways to reduce workload, including reducing meetings or meeting time.
Organizations have to support their empathetic managers and employee well-being. Employees need managers who listen openly and have the ability to provide flexibility. Managers who can facilitate support, align skills and values with work, offer autonomy and strive for fairness.