We know that the global COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a lot of this stress and burnout. Figures from a Gallup survey from 2020 showed that 62 percent of employed US adults were working part or full time from their homes. While data in the UK compiled from a survey by the Office for National Statistics showed that on average 37 percent of people here have been remote working. Working from home hasn’t been the only thing that has been on the rise, as sadly, burnout is hitting an all-time high.
However, during this difficult time of the global virus, it has been technology, which has allowed us to stay connected to loved ones and colleagues, but it has also been a double-edged sword. With the blurred lines between work and home, it can be even harder to switch off at the end of the day. It has become incumbent on employers to establish clear boundaries for homeworking employees to avoid increased stress and, potentially, burnout. Consequently, mental health is top of mind for business leaders and HR professionals.
As a former corporate executive, non-profit founder and executive director for ten years, and founder and CEO of a B Corp social enterprise, I have the lived experience of – for years – burning the candle at both ends. Leadership frequently demands hard work and long hours, which can result in diminished effectiveness and burnout. In response to this, we produced a session for the 2021 Skoll World Forum’s Wellness Hub entitled ‘From Burnout to Bliss’. The session focused on how to shift your mindset and approach, and accomplish more for your mission in a sustainable way.
Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is brought upon by long periods of constant unrelenting stress. It renders you feeling depleted and dejected. Burnout can sneak up on anyone of us and if you think it just means being exhausted from your work, think again. It can cause numerous physical and mental conditions from high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and other ailments, which can include death.
While this information may be difficult to digest, there are ways to nip burnout in the bud. We have all have discovered some quick tips along the way to help us manage our work balance. Here are some of my quick tips, which I call hacks:
- Mind-set Shift – I recognise now that my company is not about me or my work ethic; it’s about the Mission. What does my organisation need from me, the founder? This is the key question. My company does not need me to take care of everyone around me, to put others’ needs above my own or the firms at the expense of the Mission. This new lens enabled me to make hard decisions that resulted in greater overall health, sustainability, and boundaries of the company, and boundaries for myself. It set me free from feeling I needed to hold up the sky for everyone involved in the firm; it was a false belief that served no one and limited our capacity for impact.
- Be ruthless with EMAILs – I have three categories: Do, delegate, delete. If it is mine to do and takes two minutes or less – DO IT – I do not look at it twice or ten times.
- Do it ugly but get it done – I type 100 wmp, going for speed and moving something forward if it is an internal communication. “The ugly first draft” – curate the content, salient points, have someone else shape it up. For example, I sent my outline for the Skoll webinar to a team member who then created the first draft of this blog.
- Delegate – If someone can do something 80 percent as well as I can, delegate it. Good enough is good enough.
- Fresh air – Take short breaks during the day to clear your head. Make sure to go outside to absorb sunlight and fresh air.
- Meditate – Meditation has been recommended for enhancing empathy and compassion. It boosts emotional intelligence and brain-imaging research suggests that meditation can help strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions. Research in the US is being conducted about its positive affect on prosocial behaviours, leading to reduced prejudice; the initial findings are positive. An immediate and long-proven benefit of meditation is reduced stress and a decreased level of cortisol in our brains and bodies, this means it can reduce burnout.
- Time – I remember an article I read years ago that highlighted Charles Darwin, and other great minds would work four hours a day. My goal now is to be in a chair just four hours per day maximum, including all meetings/zooms.
- Litmus test – Does doing this map to accomplishing my priorities? Does this move X forward?
- Acknowledging your feelings is the first step toward recognising burnout. Taking small steps daily will help you work towards restoring your mental, physical and emotional strength.
As the health landscape continues to evolve rapidly, wellbeing strategies need to continually adapt to provide the holistic, relevant healthcare people need and deserve. Everyone’s mental health is personal to them. So, it’s important to recognise that your support must meet all your employee’s diverse needs.
On a more optimistic note, there’s increasing evidence that many organisations are now more focused on health and wellbeing, and doing their best to support people in a holistic way. It’s encouraging that senior leaders are taking more serious notice of wellbeing issues because they have the influence to transform the culture as well as practice in organisations.
Employee health is vital to every business, and over the last year in particular, many employees have come to expect that their employer cares about their health. Plus, with happier people comes better performance, better staff attraction and retention, fewer sick days, and a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Now for many businesses, there is not just an opportunity for recovery, but for renewal. Employee wellbeing should be at the heart of any organisation’s COVID-recovery plan – and its culture.