When we were all thrust into remote working as this crisis ramped up, many employers had concerns of reduced productivity while their staff were at home.
The reality of this has been a substantial risk of employee burn-out.
The lines have been blurred between work and home life, for many people an increase in work hours to try and get things done while juggling personal responsibilities. Many people have been worried about losing their job or having their salary cut and are working long hours to show loyalty to their employer.
While some people do have the benefit of working outside of work hours to have flexibility to help with things like home-school for their children, this comes with an impact on their colleagues. People feel compelled to respond to messages and email, or join calls, to stay committed to work and help business continuity.
The term ‘burn-out’ is being used increasingly. Managers are checking in with staff to see if they are stressed and struggling to cope and keeping an eye out for mental health issues during this challenging time.
What is burn-out?
What is this term and what are we trying to avoid?
Visit this site for some detail: How to Tell You Have Reached the Point of Burnout (verywellmind.com)
Some of the symptoms of burnout are:
- Physical – such as headaches and intestinal issues.
- Emotional – Feeling drained, tired and unmotivated.
- Reduced Performance – Feeling negative about work and reduced concentration.
So, it’s not just about feeling stressed and making sure an employee doesn’t have too much work on. The symptoms are in some ways like mental health challenges and so it’s important to support staff in many ways to help them through this crisis and beyond.
Another aspect to consider and be aware of is how burn-out can impact a person’s Executive Functioning. Executive functions are a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life.
Stress impacts our working memory, our cognitive flexibility, our ability to maintain attention and increases fatigue.
Some of the problems related to burn-out or Executive Functioning challenges include:
- A scattered mind and challenges focusing
- Loss of productivity
- Shallow not deep work
- Decreased motivation
- Trouble controlling emotions
- Problems starting, planning and completing tasks
- Memory issues
- Reduced ability to multi-task
As you can see, an employee suffering from burn-out is not just ‘stressed’ out. That term is too simplistic. Review the problems above consider how your staff can be impacted individually experiencing burn-out in different areas of their day or capability.
So how can technology help?
While you cannot see what someone is masking, and it can be challenging to manage and coach someone through a crisis especially if they are not keen to be open and share, consider driving some general workplace practices to help everyone and hopefully many of these will flow on to help those struggling.
What features in Microsoft 365 could help with some of the work day challenges leading to burn-out?
Allow people to have their basic needs met
Sounds simple and logical doesn’t it. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, our basic level needs include food, water, shelter, and sleep.
I can guarantee in this pandemic, many people are skipping some of these and putting their health and wellbeing second in favour of their job. Skipped lunch lately? Or up at 5am for a video call? I know I have, and I see many people scattered and tired later in the day because they haven’t stopped.
How can you help?
Push some organisation wide workplace behaviour like a meeting free timeslot, such as 12-1pm every day a meeting ban. Show people that a break is important. And for an individual, put breaks in your calendar so there is a gap between meetings. A simple task like blocking time every day for a break will pay off in big ways.
Here is quick tip about copy and paste a repeat lunch entry easily in calendar: M365 Boosts – easily duplicate appointments in Outlook – YouTube
What about other ways to support your basic needs?
Apart from time to eat, what about sleep?
Having colleagues online at different hours is great for their flexibility, but what about the way it alerts others in the time they are supposed to be switched off and even asleep?
Make sure you know how to set either ‘Offline’ mode on your laptop if you want to use it but be inactive for colleagues, and more so, ensure you set ‘quiet hours’ on your mobile to limit alerts and notifications.
This previous post of mine has more detail on shutting the world out and quiet hours on mobile: Microsoft Teams – 10 tips to start 2021! – Megan Strant
Allow time in the day to absorb and transition
We are all experiencing days full of back-to-back meetings, and endless messages either in our inbox or chat and posts in Microsoft Teams.
What happens when a meeting ends and a moment later you are in another call on a different topic?
How do you absorb the information, updates or actions from one call to the next?
We need time to absorb, reflect, get our notes sorted or some quick follow up. It’s also good to take a moment for a brain break before transitioning topics. And maybe you just need to go to the toilet!
Again, another simple feature that is highly effective – set meeting lengths to create buffer time. Either, just at times book a 45-minute meeting rather than the default 30 or 60 minutes, or change your calendar options so your default meeting time is always 10 or 15 minutes shorter. This little bit of time gives everyone a brain or comfort break.
Running (virtually or physically) from meeting to meeting is not sustainable and will break you or others.
Give space for focus
In all this chaos have you had much time for deeper work and focusing on tasks with minimal interruption?
The constant interruptions are not a result of the pandemic; they were creeping up on us prior and are a result of modern technology.
We need to allow our brain time to stick to one thing and do it well. Think about your work style and when you are in the mindset to focus best, most likely in the morning. Block out time in your calendar for some focus and then shallow tasks in the afternoon. Obviously only if your job allows, set yourself in Do Not Disturb to shut out the interruptions and really try to have quality work time. I sometimes take it a step further and put myself in ‘appear offline‘ so people don’t think its possible to reach me. If you are concerned about being offline and stakeholders wondering where you are or experiencing a lack of response because you are actually having the time you need off work – set an Out Of Office to let people know that you will be less responsive or online later.
Check out this video tip to know more about appearing offline M365 Boosts – appear offline in Microsoft Teams – YouTube.
Another great aspect of Microsoft 365 is the Insights in Outlook, or your MyAnalytics dashboard. Explore your work habits – do you read emails quickly because the pop-up breaks your focus? Try to set yourself some goals to tweak behaviour and get the focus your work requires. Being continually scattered and shallow in your work reduces your concentration and increases stress, so do this for your own sanity.
Foster human connection
Further up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is ‘love and belonging’ which relates to things like friendship and a sense of connection.
While a core part of our job is to achieve goals and activities, pushing through each day solely focused on work without that human connection isn’t great for mental health or wellbeing.
How can we help drive human connection with technology?
Well this is no doubt a blog in itself, but essentially think about what staff (or you) are lacking while being remote and try to establish a virtual version. Miss water-cooler or hallway chat? Create a repeat meeting or channel for discussion and seeing each other. While to some it may seem time-wasting, talking about your weekend or a slight off-load why your kids are not doing homework can really lift someone’s spirits.
Make it ok for staff to have some chat time, or event some allocated time for social fun, and reach out one-on-one to connect with those who are quiet or struggling.
Check in with your team
Some of the MyAnalytics insights are a great way to have a conversation and check-in with your team. I have used it before as a way to see if a team member has a meeting heavy schedule with no solid focus time.
Go a step further to see how the technology can help provide additional support for wellbeing. Yes Microsoft at some stage will enable their ‘virtual commute’ to help end your working day, but you don’t have to wait for this feature. Ever heard of the term ‘3rd space‘? This video is worth a watch. (1) Dr Adam Fraser ‘The Third Space’ at Happiness & Its Causes 2013 – YouTube
Try to have some time in the day and calendar to transition out of the working day. Use Microsoft To Do and the ‘important’ or ‘my day’ features to prioritise your tasks for the next day. Put some music in your ears and downtime prior to logging off and heading back out into family time.
Also, talk as a team about what is important to help the week. A while ago I was in a team where we had ‘non-negotiables’ and the idea was to ensure each person had a couple of personal things that flexible working could enable, and we all respected those. Mine were being present for 2 school pickups a week, which mean it was okay to block my calendar and skip meetings. Or be offline middle of the day for a run. Setting something like this, booking it out in calendar, changing your status so people know and respect that time does wonders for mental health and reducing risk of burnout.
There are many other great ways technology can help with your workday. Think about what you need to achieve or the challenges you experience and consider if there are ways you can further leverage simple features to carve out improvements to help reduce your change of burn-out, or suggest to others. And for managers, if you think giving people some time to chat and be social, or have a rest costs the business – this cost is far greater if you don’t and people burn out and quit.