Many of us are still working from home, working in a hybrid work structure. While working remotely has some major perks, it also poses unique challenges that could exacerbate stress and burnout.
As a leader of a fully remote team, I have found a few practical ways to increase team productivity while helping my team prioritize their mental health and job satisfaction.
What is workplace burnout?
A little workday stress is a common feeling. It’s something we all deal with. But chronic, unmanaged stress can lead to burnout. Workplace burnout is a state of mental or physical exhaustion often resulting in anxiety, depression, and loss of identity.
In 2021 APA’s work and well-being survey reported a 38% increase in physical and emotional fatigue compared to 2019. Nearly 3 in 5 employees reported experiencing the negative effects of chronic workplace stress.
In the 2022 workplace employee statistics aren’t looking good. A whopping 86% of remote workers report experiencing burnout in their current positions. The stats aren’t much better among in-person workers (70%).
This deeply affects the mental health of workers which affects workplace productivity, efficiency, and employee turnover rate.
Leaders could be doing more to help prevent workplace burnout. So let’s talk about it.
Image by DCStudio on Freepik
7 real tips to help avoid workplace burnout within remote teams
All tips listed below are structured from real remote workplace employee data. Using real data to help lead a team is indispensable.
#1 Help the team avoid Zoom meeting fatigue
“Does anyone have any questions before we close out the meeting?”
“NO. No one has any questions, Debra, I was supposed to be on another call 6 minutes ago!”
We’ve all been there, hopping from meeting to meeting. Talking a problem to death while work mounts around you. Constant (Zoom, Teams, or Google Hangouts) meetings are exhausting.
To help employees avoid burnout leaders should avoid setting back-to-back meetings, or constantly “hopping on a quick call” every 5 minutes.
Instead set up structured, scheduled meetings with clear agendas.
Agendas help keep everything on track, the attendees know what to expect and what will be asked of them. This decreases stress and boosts productivity.
When meetings are overused, they lose their usefulness –because we’re all socially exhausted and just want to get off the call.
#2 Devise head-down time
In the 2021 GitLab remote work report, employees said their biggest pain at work is distractions (25%) and too many meetings (17%).
We all need time away from meetings, chats, and calls. We need scheduled, dedicated time to put our heads down and get work done –totally uninterrupted.
Enacting a head-down policy where employees have the option to block out time on their calendar for 2+ hours at a time could help get on top of workloads.
This addition could help employees feel refreshed and ready for “heads up” time.
Heads up: Focusing on new solutions, embracing new ideas, dreaming up the future, future problem-solving, innovating, and collaborating.
Heads down: Focused on delivery, getting the dang work done, avoiding collaboration, distraction, or influence, focus on the right now.
Most of the time, we work in a “heads up” environment -–this has its benefits–but, to avoid burnout, we need to strike a balance.
#3 Define goals & don’t move the goalpost
In a modern workplace, it’s sort of a given that everything is changing all the time. There are new problems to solve, new employees, new leaders, and new marketplace challenges.
However, as a leader, each role should have clear and defined goals that span a quarter. If your expectations are constantly changing your employees never have a win. You can’t keep moving the goalpost and expect your team to feel engaged or satisfied with their work.
Define the goals, communicate them clearly, touch base throughout the year, and evaluate performance. But don’t expect these goals to be met along with every new one you can throw at the team.
Be clear with expectations. Keep that goal post in sight, and reward the team for being awesome.
#4 Offer healthcare coverage that includes mental healthcare
Healthcare is incredibly important when it comes to workplace satisfaction. In fact, “56% of remote workers would rather have company-sponsored health insurance than a higher salary.”
The physical and mental well-being of the team is incredibly important when preventing workplace burnout.
To ensure that your team can prevent or curb any workplace burnout ensure that mental health care is included in the coverage you offer. If that’s not your call then advocate for your team.
Mental healthcare services offer a route of mental self-care that is indispensable for burnout prevention. In and of itself supplying great healthcare insurance plans increases job satisfaction, company loyalty, and motivation.
#5 People-centered transparent workplace fosters connection
Corporate companies talk a lot about being “people first”, but what does that mean?
To us, a people-first company prioritizes the health, well-being, and satisfaction of the employees over profit. Will working 16-hour days increase profit over time? Maybe. But it will demoralize and exhaust your team. Or, you could make it taboo to speak about work wages or stock options, or you could create a transparent people-first work environment.
People first involve making decisions that benefit the employees.
Putting this into action looks like embodying your company values, increasing employee praise and coaching, offering profit sharing, wage transparency, and anonymous employee evaluation of leadership.
People-first companies ask their employees what they need to feel supported and then they make it happen. This sounds like common sense because it is, but it’s not often common practice.
In the 2021 GitLab remote work report, 34% of employees noted that leadership transparency led to higher levels of connectedness. The same goes for increased visibility within the organization.
In a people-first company, culture employees feel supported and at the end of the day, that alone can curb burnout.
#6 Set boundaries and encourage employees to hold boundaries
When we all switched to a remote or hybrid environment when the pandemic first began, the first thing to go was boundaries. If you can work from your bedroom, then what’s stopping you from doing that at all hours of the day?
Well, the answer is boundaries.
42% of GitHub survey respondents report that they struggle to maintain boundaries when they work from home. If your team has blurry boundaries then they are far more likely to suffer from workplace burnout.
Lead by example (or encourage your team leads to) and don’t answer your emails in the middle of the night, or at 7 pm on a Sunday. (If you MUST, then schedule them to send during work hours.) Don’t schedule an all hands on deck at 4:40 pm when folks are getting ready to clock off. Don’t be that person.
Don’t make it a point to work through holidays, and weekends, or refuse to take your PTO. Maintain your boundaries as a leader and everyone will feel safe to do the same.
Make it clear when you hire folks that they are expected to work during set work hours and freely live their lives at all other times. Encourage them to plan out their paid time off, and collectively shuffle the workload to accommodate teammates.
At the end of the day, we’re humans, not employees.
#7 Schedule unstructured optional catch-up coffee meetings
While I do hate a calendar that is jammed with meeting after meeting, I do think it’s important to open lines of casual communication. In the office you’d expect to see employees catching up in the break room, cutting up in the hallway, and saying hi to the awesome cafe staff. As simple as it is, this human interaction is necessary for our well-being.
On the “biggest pains” part of the workplace survey, feelings of disconnection and isolation ranks #3.
Try to schedule an optional weekly coffee catch-up where folks can come and go as they want (with one helpful moderator to close up the gab or announce employee birthdays). This simple act of connection might help ease some stress, and allow employees to connect and relax a bit.
Working from home can be incredibly isolating which can be terrible for mental health. Try to curb this possibility by opening lines of communication.
The bottom line
Our collective work culture has changed forever. This change could increase the possibility of workplace burnout -–something leaders need to work hard to avoid. Since our work lives changed, so too do our internal goals that keep our teams happy and healthy.