In the video and article below, Juliet Hodges, Senior Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa, gives her tips on how you can promote a positive work routine that can help your team to avoid burnout.
Burnout happens when we feel overwhelmed or stressed at work for long periods of time. The suddenly blurred lines between our professional and personal lives can make this more likely, as your employees might feel they need to be always ‘on’, especially those who are working remotely for the first time. But there are some steps you can take to help your team recreate those boundaries and give them the support they need to stay happy and healthy.
1. Recreate your routine
When we make the transition from home to work in more normal times, we have various ‘boundary crossing’ behaviours, like putting on our work clothes and getting in the car or on a train. You can recreate these at home by making sure you follow a similar routine, and even going for a walk to simulate your commute. Having a dedicated workspace also helps to create a separation between work and relaxation. Even if you’re forced to work on the kitchen table, try to set it up differently during the working day, maybe putting up some kind of screen or sitting facing a different way.
2. Clocking off
It’s also important that your team follow fixed working hours where possible. Nine to five might not be appropriate for everyone, especially those with children or other caring responsibilities, so agree with your team what hours they will work and hold them to it if you see them online for longer. Let them know you will expect them to unplug completely when they are off the clock. Setting an out of office to let others know they will not be checking emails can help people feel more comfortable switching their phones off. Breaks during the day are vital too – for example, if you can, create a norm of no meetings over lunchtime.
You also need to be aware of how your behaviour as a manager affects your team. For every hour you spend visibly working over the weekend or outside normal hours, your team are likely to put in an extra twenty minutes. So make sure you’re setting your own boundaries too.
3. Prioritise team relationships
Having a supportive team at work is critical to preventing burnout and being separated from our teams at home can be detrimental to these relationships. This isn’t helped by big group calls where quieter team members don’t feel they can speak up, and a lack of spontaneous interactions which means most scheduled meetings are all about work. As a manager, you can set aside time that is purely social – a coffee morning, pub quiz, small groups or larger groups. You can also think about other ways to involve people, like using chat functionality. It’s important that this doesn’t feel forced, so decide with your team what activities would work best.
4. Ditch the video and head out for a walk
While it’s important to keep in frequent contact with your team, there is some evidence to suggest that video conferences can be much more tiring than normal meetings. This is because we can’t rely on non-verbal cues like facial expressions so well, which means we have to work much harder to understand what our colleagues are communicating and how they feel. To make matters worse, we’re chained at our desks during these calls, which can mean a lot of time spent sitting down. Instead, try doing your 1:1s over the phone, and suggest you both go for a walk while you talk. There’s evidence that even a short walk can boost creativity and problem-solving while reducing stress.
5. Help your team create time for focused work
It can be tempting to prioritise responding to emails and requests when you’re at home, to prove that you’re being productive. But this is often at the expense of your most important projects. This is particularly an issue during lockdown, when interruptions from your home life are unavoidable, so the time you really need to focus is limited. Research has shown that it can take over twenty minutes to get our concentration back after just one email notification. Give your team permission to carve out that time if they need it – a chunk of time in their diaries where they won’t be checking emails, for example, and any queries can wait.
- National Geographic. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here's why that happens. www.nationalgeographic.co.uk, published 27 April 2020
- Harvard Business Review. 3 tips to avoid WFH burnout. hbr.org, published April 2020
- Harvard Business Review. If you multitask during meeting, your team will, too. hbr.org, published January 2018
- Mark G, Gonzales VM, Harris J. No task left behind? Examining the nature of fragmented work. CHI 2005. ics.uci.edu