WFH can increase burnout in the workforce, decrease morale, and lower productivity, so rethinking employee engagement should be a top priority for managers and leaders.
Although remote work generally increases performance and most employees prefer it, WFH can have negative effects on the workforce.
How Has WFH Affected Remote Employees?
According to the WHO, burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
They suggest that burnout has three dimensions:
- Feelings of depletion or exhaustion
- Mental distance from or negativity towards one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Psychology Today agrees, defining burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
While burnout can occur in any scenario, research has shown that working from home can increase stress and burnout.
According to research performed by Gallup, for instance, 29% of full-time remote workers felt burned out “often” or “all the time.” This represents an 11% increase from the figures one year previously, when only 18% reported the same sentiment.
According to Gallup, working from home may make many feel “trapped at home,” rather than being a flexible perk.
For employees not used to – or interested in – remote working, the consequences can be quite detrimental to their emotional, mental, and even physical wellbeing.
According to research from CraftJack, for example, a number of people don’t have home offices. As a result, many will work outside, from the couch, or even from the bed. They also found that 74% of people have felt pain or discomfort while working at home, and 81% of those have felt that pain on a weekly basis.
FlexJobs surveyed employees during the pandemic and found that:
- 76% of employees felt that workplace stress affected their mental health, leading to depression or anxiety
- 56% felt that flexibility in their workday was the best way employers could support them
- 40% felt burnout during the pandemic
- 37% said they were working longer hours during the pandemic
Reasons such as these should indicate, among other things, that there is a danger of WFH burnout. While employers cannot control every aspect of their employees’ work environment, especially when working remotely, there are ways to improve employee engagement and the remote work experience.
Rethinking Employee Engagement and Management in the Remote Workplace
Here are a few strategies that can help managers boost engagement and reduce the negative effects of remote working.
1. Understand the impacts of remote working – both good and bad
As we have seen above, the work-from-home model can have downsides. While the majority of workers do like the perks of working remotely, it is important to be aware of both the upsides and the downsides.
Knowing what these are will help supervisors develop appropriate remote workplace management strategies.
2. Seek out employee feedback and put their ideas into action
Not all remote teams will have the same perspective on remote working. Neither will individuals. It is therefore important to solicit feedback and opinions on the remote workplace.
Conduct employee surveys to learn their impressions, both positive and negative, and to get ideas on how the remote workplace can be improved.
3. Implement programs that support employee wellbeing
There are a number of ways to support employee wellbeing in the remote workplace.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are one example. These are benefits packages, much like medical benefits packages, but they focus on other types of health issues such as mental health issues and addiction.
Corporate wellness programs or another example. These programs are designed to reduce workplace stress, anxiety, and to improve employees’ overall health.
Both of these solutions can not only help remote workers stay healthy and happy in the remote workplace, they can reduce costs associated with health issues, such as absenteeism and healthcare costs.
4. Teach employees best practices around remote working
Managers and leaders must set an example for workers, so they should be the first to learn and use remote working best practices.
Here are just a few examples of techniques that can help employees stay efficient, happy, and healthy when working from home:
- Create a separate space within the household dedicated exclusively to work
- Set rules for other family members to avoid being distracted
- Avoid common distractions such as the cell phone, the TV, and social media
Approaches such as these can go a long way towards improving employee productivity and engagement when working from home.
5. “Over-communicate” to compensate for the lack of social connection
Social isolation and loneliness are among the most common complaints from remote workers. While it is impossible to completely remove that element of remote working, there are steps that managers can take.
One step is to “over-communicate.”
That is, communicate more than is necessary when using online channels – and be very clear when you do communicate.
The reason, claim some, is that nonverbal communication is absent from the online realm. Yet nonverbal communication makes up the majority of human interactions. When it is absent, misunderstandings and miscommunications can occur more frequently.
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