Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Avoiding burnout in the new normal

At the start of lockdown in March, many of us were thrown into remote working headfirst. This was not without its challenges – IT issues, finding a quiet space for a Zoom call and emergency continuity planning to name but a few – but despite these challenges, we found a new sense of freedom in working from home.

No long commutes, the chance of a lie in, more time for our families, personal fitness and cooking were all welcomed. However as the weeks went on, for many the novelty of remote working wore off. They started to realise that working from home brought its own unique challenges, and one of the biggest ones is being able to switch off.

Five months on many of us are back in the office, part time if not full time. But with many organisations announcing work from home policies until December 2020 or even beyond, there are a large proportion of employees across the UK and Europe still working remotely.

The question that remains is what does good leadership look like when managing a remote team? And how should employers help their people manage anxiety, exhaustion and loneliness? Basically, how do we prevent burnout in ourselves and across our organisations?

During a recent SocialChorus webinar Lucas Millar and Owain Service, experts in neuroscience and behavioural science respectively, discussed that it’s no good holding out for a return to normal because it simply won’t be happening any time soon, if ever. Lucas implored people to rethink and challenge everything we used to do, and by doing so we can start to create new routines and habits that will help us as businesses and individuals to evolve into this new hybrid way of life. Instead of thinking negatively about what has come to pass, we need to hit refresh and introduce new, positive practices for the wellbeing of all.

What do those positive practices look like? One of the key things mentioned was a calendar cleanse where teams work together to reduce the number of meetings, which have notably increased since the start of coronavirus as people compensate for not being in the office by being on more calls.

Both Millar and Service noted that this huge increase is a big mistake and will accelerate burnout. By reviewing calendars together teams can agree on what’s necessary or not, and who does or doesn’t actually need to be in a meeting. It helps productivity and helps to remove new forms of presenteeism that seem to be creeping into our daily working habits even remotely.

Other tips for avoiding burnout include:

  • Bosses leading by example by taking time to take care of their own mental health and wellbeing. At SocialChorus, we’ve introduced SocialChorus Distancing days where one day a month is a company holiday, a day where all employees could take a day off and spend it however they chose to support their health and wellbeing.
  • Maintaining culture remotely – have conversations that aren’t just about work, find ways to build team camaraderie.
  • Turn off notifications and encourage people to intentionally check messages every 2 hours instead of real-time
  • Remember those coffee breaks and team trips for a quick drink at the local bar have vanished. Push people to take regular breaks away from their computers, take the dog for a walk or at least step away. These breaks will help to maintain productivity and keep people sane.
  • Encourage people to state their top three priorities for the day. No more than three and if they accomplish them, they need to recognise that’s success and they can comfortably ‘switch-off’ without feeling they have to do “just a few more things”.

We must remember that the technology to enable businesses to work completely digitally is here to stay and will only get more sophisticated as time goes on. It offers a huge opportunity for traditional organisations in particular to change their approaches to workplace culture and focus on the work life balance of employees.

Just because we can now stay connected and be online 24/7 doesn’t mean we should, just like we no longer need to be slaves to the commute and the office. If there’s one good thing to come out of this experience, perhaps that is it: we can change our behaviours and habits for the better.

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