Is your 5am alarm clock ready? 47% of managers fear their employees are at risk of burnout upon returning to the office

3 years ago

The UK workforce experienced ‘boomerang’ productivity levels during lockdown – where at its peak 35% reported an increase in productivity, and at its lowest 28% reported a decrease in productivity. 

A third of professionals (30%) stated that their ‘yo-yo’ productivity levels during lockdown led to a decline in their mental health or wellbeing.

By definition, a significant proportion of the UK workforce may have suffered from workplace burnout during lockdown – with almost half of managers (47%) fearing a similar boomerang-style productivity levels once offices are able to reopen.

According to the findings from Walters People, 62% of professionals have suffered from a workplace burnout symptoms at some point in their career, with the World Health Organisation characterising burn-out by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Social isolation (40%), lack of communication with colleagues and co-workers (28%), and working longer hours (22%) have been the primary contributors of causing workplace burnout symptoms during lockdown.

Phill Westcott – Director of Walters People comments:

“Pre-lockdown a culture of ‘the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be’ was really beginning to gather momentum. We’d see successful and high-profile business owners talk about their 4am alarm-clock and how they’d do a day’s work before anyone around them had their first sip of coffee.

“Over-working became a glamourised notion – yet having a lie-in or taking extra walks during your working day were not being equated to success in the same way. 

“Lockdown has highlighted to employers and employees alike that increased flexibility, working less hours, and including more ‘me time’ into your working day can actually increase productivity, creativity, and overall work-ethic.

“The challenge however will be for managers to maintain that level of autonomy, freedom and flexibility with staff once offices re-open. In order to move away from such high figures of burnout we need to appreciate that an empty desk does not mean employees aren’t working.”

32% of employees are expecting an improvement to be made to wellbeing policies upon return to the office – however over a third of companies fear that their leadership team are not equipped to handle new ways of working. 

In fact, when surveying companies employers stated that their management team needed to be more empathetic to work-life balance (74%), focus on outcomes rather than time spent (65%), improve their understanding of mental health & wellbeing (52%), and create more time for collaboration rather than adopting a top-down management method (36%).

Phill Westcott highlights the six areas that employers need to address before allowing employees to return back to the office:

  1. Managing workload expectations 
  • 90% of employees want goals communicated to them regularly to allow them an opportunity to speak up when workload becomes excessive
  • 61% of professionals state wellness policies are important, yet just a third of employers offer above legal requirement or industry standard

“Occasional tight deadlines are expected in any business, but burnout occurs when your employees simply have too much to do, or lack the resources, skill or ability to do what’s required of them in the time allotted. 

“Manage workload expectations by communicating goals and objectives clearly on a regular basis. Consider implementing a wellness policy, encourage employees to take time off work to recharge, and extend flexible working options to all employees, not just parents,” – advises Phill.

  1. Give Employees Autonomy & Control

“Only 18% of the professionals we surveyed strongly agree that their roles and responsibilities were conveyed appropriately to them in the job description and during the interview process.

“This is troubling because a major cause of burnout for many employees is feeling a lack of control in the workplace. That could mean a lack of autonomy in how they do their work or even a lack of control over their future career prospects” – states Phill.

  • Set expectations early on: Be clear about the skills you’re looking for right from the start. If you expect that a role will evolve or change over time, you should make this very clear during the interview process. Ensure you are hiring someone who can embrace ambiguity or someone who can effectively communicate when a project or situation is no longer working for them.
  • Include employees in important decisions: While some decisions do need to be made behind closed doors, a little transparency and consultation can go a long way — it shows employees that you value their input and want them be a part of shaping the future of the business. 
  • Control over performance: According to a Gallup report on employee burnout, employees who strongly believe their performance metrics are within their control are 55% less likely to experience burnout.
  • Ask for feedback: 65% of our survey respondents feel it’s very important to have the option to give anonymous feedback to their managers, yet 46% of employers revealed that they “rarely” give their reports the option to do so. 
  1. Recognising Results 
  • Less than 10% of professionals have a clear idea of what it would take to be promoted or to receive a bonus
  • Half surveyed said that they often work very hard on projects with no acknowledgment from their peers or upper management
  • 95% of employees feel competitive pay is very important, but nearly a third said they don’t feel that they’re paid competitively.

“It’s important to reward results rather than just the number of hours spent in the office. Combating a culture of presenteeism is essential to creating a positive working environment and preventing burnout.

However, rewards do not always have to be financial. They can be social (in the form of praise or positive feedback) or intrinsic (feeling proud of the result of your own hard work),” states Phill. 

  1. Creating a culture where everyone belongs
  • 73% of professionals surveyed said they feel it’s important that their company organises team bonding activities, yet less than half of businesses said they take the time to do so
  • 80% of professionals said it was important for managers to have an open-door policy to prevent frustrations building up

“People want to come to work and be amongst colleagues who they enjoy and respect. While hiring for culture fit raises its fair share of problems (as it can undermine diversity), there are other ways to ensure your business has a sense of community where everyone belongs.

“For example, organise team activities that deepen employee relationships within your business. Review communication channels to ensure they are being used, and that they effectively reach all corners of the business,” suggests Phill.

  1. Ensuring equal opportunities and fairness
  • Less than 10% of professionals have a clear idea of what it would take to be promoted or receive a bonus
  • More than a third stated that they weren’t treated fairly in terms of reward
  • Almost half of respondents said they do not have a mentor available at their workplace.

“Implement transparent career trajectories. Promote those individuals who have met their previously agreed KPIs. Hire with diversity and inclusion in mind to avoid monotony and ‘tunnel vision’ thinking,” states Phill. 

  1. A shared set of values
  • 42% of professionals revealed that they prioritise working for a mission-driven company over other incentive items such as salary or benefits.

“Lead with your company values and mission and be sure that they are woven into the company culture. Include a ‘culture fit’ interview as part of your formal hiring process to ensure the placement will be a match for both sides,” states Phill.

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