To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life and wreaked havoc across the world is an understatement. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and more than 500,000 have lost their lives, to this deadly virus; while virtual offices and classrooms, masks, and social distancing are the new normal.
The virus has changed how we work and where we work, turning our work-life balance upside down. We have gone from working at home to feeling like we are living at work. Everyday can feel like Groundhog Day, except there’s no sign of Punxsutawney Phil. Instead, we awaken from our slumber, ready to stare down another day of endless Zoom calls. Collaborating with teammates via virtual platforms sometimes leaves us reminiscing over the energy of a positive office environment where casual adult conversations helped break up the workday. Unfortunately, we took it all for granted.
It’s been just over a year since we left our Yes& offices in Alexandria, and while we’ve tried our best to keep employees connected through a variety of engagement programs (listed below), it’s still hard to help employees avoid work burnout. But the more we learn about it, the more prepared we can become to prevent it from happening in the first place.
The World Health Organization defines three dimensions of workplace burnout to be aware of:
- 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.
As you read this list, you may identify with one or more of these dimensions. Perhaps you now recognize patterns of behavior you’ve witnessed from teammates. Well, now that you are aware of the symptoms, the worst thing you can do is ignore them and hope that when we all go back to the office, everything will be ‘back to normal’—because it won’t.
A MetLife report from July 2020 shared that two-thirds of all employers agreed that there would be a mental health crisis in the United States within three years. This staggering statistic should encourage organizations to act now to support their employees.
Creating a safe environment where employees can have open and honest conversations about burnout and mental well-being is a first step. Employees should feel empowered to talk to their managers and Human Resources (HR) team about how they are feeling. If they are overwhelmed, encourage them to seek help, including professional counseling or resources that are available through the company. It is important to keep this kind of information readily available to support employees who want to ask for help, but may be reluctant to take that step for fear of being judged.
Since the beginning of our remote work environment, Yes& has promoted our cultural values of ‘Positivity & Possibility.’ We created opportunities to help employees feel connected, engaged, and supported through several programs that are aimed to strengthen team spirit and create an environment with interactive activities similar to those that used to take place organically in the office—either after meetings in conference rooms, at the coffee machine in the morning, or on company outings. Employees appreciate the programs and largely participate. True to our culture, our team loves to learn; but even more so, they love to share. Here are some of our most popular engagement programs:
- Walk and Talk
Employees are encouraged to get outside for a 30-minute walk every two weeks to engage with a group of colleagues by phone. The groups are purposely composed of co-workers from different areas of the company who would not normally engage with one another on a daily basis. The only caveat is that you are not allowed to discuss work. Instead, questions like, ‘What was your style in high school?’ ‘What was your first concert?’ or ‘Where will you go when we can freely travel again?’ are asked to prompt a fun and light discussion while getting some exercise and a breath of fresh air.
- Brown-bag Luncheons
We strive to host monthly professional development sessions where employees meet online to hear from an outside speaker or brainstorm about a challenge or issue the agency is facing. Anyone can introduce a topic to discuss. Sometimes, we break into smaller networking rooms and then present ideas back to the larger group. This fosters collaboration among employees who may not work together, provides teambuilding opportunities, and generates creative solutions for our clients.
- No Lunchtime Meetings
Yes& encourages all employees to leave the hour between Noon and 1:00 p.m. free from meetings so that employees can leave their desks, eat lunch, say ‘hi’ to the family, and get some fresh air and exercise. When possible, blocking off this time each day is a simple way to prevent fatigue and burnout.
- Social Action Hours
Every month, Yes& gives employees eight paid hours to use for social action. Some of our employees have used this allotted time to participate in Black Lives Matter marches, support programs for female Veterans, and serve at homeless shelters, to name a few. Employees are encouraged to share about their volunteer experiences in our monthly internal agency newsletter.
- Happy Hours with Trivia
Frequent happy hours give everyone a reason to finish up the week a little early and focus on bonding with peers over their favorite beverage. Not everyone imbibes, so remember to inject some comedy, trivia, or a theme into a virtual Happy Hour to encourage full participation. For those who do enjoy alcoholic beverages, sharing favorite cocktail recipes is always a hit.
- Art Sessions
Art can help reduce stress and improve focus and productivity. Occasionally, our creative artists share drawing and doodling techniques that give employees a fun way to learn a new skill and break out of their comfort zones.
- Time Off
While vacation time is an obvious way to recharge, managers are tasked with speaking to their teams regularly about scheduling time off so they can disconnect from work. It’s important to help your employees manage their workloads and plan ahead so they can balance their work with much-needed rest and relaxation or time off to take care of priorities.
When it comes to COVID-19, we’re not out of the woods yet, but with the roll-out of vaccinations, there is a growing sentiment that normalcy is around the corner. Who knows, we may return to the office as soon as the summer. Nevertheless, for many people, remote work is here to stay, so hybrid teams will be our future. Organizations would do well to remember to employ all the tools and strategies at their disposal to care for their employees—wherever they may be. After all, a good organizational culture transcends location.