Although some believe new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) will push humans out of the workforce in the future, the fact remains that humans are working more now than they ever have—due, in large part, to technology itself. With the rise of mobility comes the rise of accessibility—an “always-on” and “always-connected” culture that is pushing many Americans over the edge when it comes to work/life balance. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently published an article showing that psychological and physical conditions of burned out employees cost between $125 billion and $190 billion in healthcare spending each year. Nearly half of human resources (HR) professionals attribute up to 50 percent of employee turnover to burnout. In business terms, that’s not just a problem—it’s an epidemic.
I remember the first time—long ago—that I was given a business cell phone. Although it made me feel pretty important at the time, I later learned just how invasive it was to have anyone from work call me anywhere, at any time. That’s nothing compared to what employees in the digital landscape are experiencing.
Although mobility is offering an increasing number of employees the flexibility to work remotely, it’s also increasing expectations of how accessible employees need to be. Reports show that more than 80 percent of employees have responded to work emails while on vacation, and nearly 90 percent believe it’s OK to call or text someone outside of work hours. If your company is drowning in burnout and overwhelm, you’re not alone. But you’d do well to follow the recommendations below to reverse the trend before turnover and stress-related illness start robbing you of productivity and talent.
Evaluate Your Culture
I could argue that almost every issue in the digital workplace today is first and foremost an issue of culture. That is absolutely the case where burnout is concerned. Are there lots of last-minute, harried deadlines? Extensive approval processes? Do executives often work late hours and contact employees during the evenings and weekends? Would an employee feel awkward leaving work at a normal time—even though they weren’t specifically warned against it? If so, you’ve got a definite culture problem.
Model Healthful Behavior
Perhaps the easiest way to alleviate burn-out: stop burning out yourself. Employees will generally seek to model the behavior of those who lead them. If they see their bosses working all weekend or through the evening, they will often feel compelled to do it, too—even just for fear of losing their position. Help ease their concerns by taking regular breaks throughout the day, communicating hours of unavailability, and communicating about the importance of your own hobbies, family, and personal experiences in your own life.
Engage Employees in the Process
If you want a happy and engaged workforce, you need to actually engage them in the policies and processes that create your work environment. Talk to them about how deadlines are set, collaboration is performed, and the number of meetings and calls they have throughout the day. Those things are easy to fix, and are far easier to remedy than health issues or a mass employee exodus. Further, rather than assuming that 24/7 “on-time” is the norm, encourage employees to post “off times” when they will be completely unavailable—including vacation.
Know How Many is Too Many
One of my friends worked for a large electricity provider that was filled to the gills with collaborative projects, lengthy and complex review process, and a general issue of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Once, she noted that a boss had asked five employees to work on a draft of one single email—an email that could have been handled in less than an hour if delegation and trust had been properly placed. As a manager, know how many employees, meetings—and opinions—are too many, and establish a culture of trust so that you can delegate effectively.
Making Health and Well-being Part of Your Daily To-Do List
It is a leader’s responsibility to make sure that employees know how to balance work and life. At one Fortune 500 company, employees engage in “homeroom meetings” every morning to gauge the individual work levels, discuss who needs help for the day, and discuss any other issues, including personal overwhelm. Getting those issues out in the open—and knowing employees will be supporting when expressing them—will go a long way in preventing burnout for your team.
Technology is here to help us—not hurt us. But we are the only ones that can set our own healthy limits to ensure that it is used safely. “Always on” isn’t always good—and it’s time we all start recognizing it.
Additional Articles on This Topic:
How Data is Driving Employee Burnout—And What to Do About It
Enterprise Mobility: Eliminating the Need for Traditional Offices
Tackling Collaborative Overload in Your Organization