How Employee Burnout Became Managers’ Top Fear

Despite the early pandemic headlines of employees thrilled to work from home and prominent companies declaring it their new long-term normal, our Return to the Office survey told a different story - remote work isn’t the reset we all hoped for.

Gina Kim
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August 4, 2020

Feeling stuck at home, maxing on screen time, and hitting the wall of Zoom are contributing to severe burnout. And what’s more, we found individual contributors to be 3x more likely than their managers to be experiencing burnout right now. 

To better understand this phenomenon, we interviewed clients to hear about their experiences first hand.

“Because I am home all the time, I’m expected to work and be responsive any time. I am always in work mode and end up working continuously.” - Manager, Big 5 Bank 
“I feel anxious and exhausted all the time. I get emails from my work about how they are supporting the employees through this time, such as giving us flexibility to take time off while also mandating that we use our PTO. Yet work is unrelenting. Days off during a pandemic haven’t been relaxing, I spend them thinking about work, and the more time I take off, the more the work keeps piling up.” - Associate, Big 4 Accounting Firm

Young professionals in particular are struggling to define their “cut off”, feeling uncomfortable to push back on longer hours. Many also mentioned a resentment towards their colleagues with kids who they see as being given more flexibility, while those without children feel their perceived free time is often viewed as available for work. ‍

“Because there is nowhere to go outside of work, people expect me to be on all the time. Meetings get pushed later into the night and earlier in the morning. At first it was easy to work overtime because of my lack of personal commitment outside of work, but now I’m worn out but feel like new norms have already been set.”  - Associate, Big 4 Accounting Firm‍

These comments fall in line with Microsoft’s most recent data of working during the pandemic. They found that as managers use video calls to compensate for the loss of in person interactions, time in meetings has crept up by 10%, reducing time to actually work during 9-5. To boot, internal IMs jumped 52% helping to make evenings the new working hours.

How leaders can help 

It's clear solving burnout goes beyond standard policies for support. Leaders need to more closely consider their role at preventing and reversing burnout: ‍

1. Pay close attention

Watch for people who just don’t seem like themselves. Consistently promote the notion that everyone copes with pressures differently to help you and the team recognize when people are acting from a place of stress. (Did you know? SHIFT clients can do this using Perspective, our new stress decoder functionality.)

2. Draw helpful boundaries

Mandated PTO or summer hours for burnout recovery isn’t necessarily the answer, since it can be a source of stress for some. Instead, lean in and get to know what each team member needs. From meeting-free Fridays to no evening email replies, helping to build a healthy perimeter for each person can bring back better work-life balance.

3. Open up as a team

Make problem solving a team effort. As a group, open a conversation about why it’s important to be vulnerable now more than ever. As team members start to understand how each feels, their empathy will increase, along with their willingness to support one another.

For managers and individual contributors alike, this is an incredibly challenging time. How you support your team now is crucial to their wellbeing, overall contributions, and longevity for better days ahead.

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