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How to fight workforce burnout in 2021

Written by Sarra Bejaoui on Tuesday, 24 August 2021. Posted in HR, People

With 46% of UK workers feeling ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared to March 2020, it is clear that the disruption to our routines, job insecurity and threat to human life that the events of the past year has taken its toll on the workforce

How to fight workforce burnout in 2021

With 46% of UK workers feeling ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared to March 2020, it is clear that the disruption to our routines, job insecurity and threat to human life that the events of the past year has taken its toll on the UK workforce. A recent example is Jonathan Frostick, an HSBC employee whose LinkedIn post went viral, detailing a list of ways he will be setting boundaries within his working life to better protect his health following a heart attack he experienced working from home. 

How do we, as business leaders, energise and reinvigorate a workforce that has gone through a collective trauma – a world event that has changed almost every detail of our lives?

SmartPA is a people and purpose-led organisation and leadership team, as we know that happy people create world-class customer service. We need to take the opportunity to refresh and reignite the passions of our people on a regular basis, encouraging healthy rituals and a positive relationship with work. Here are some ways we can fight burnout within our teams and drive forward with a happy and productive workforce.

Welcome workers back in a positive way

If you are just beginning to welcome back your team to the office following the updated guidance this July, it is important to be mindful that many workers will be anxious about the return. Where it is reasonable to do so, it is important to listen to what your workers feelings are about returning to work and consider whether offering a hybrid or flexible working system is possible for your business. To facilitate this, Accenture collaborated with a range of employees, clients and local legal teams to develop a Return to Workplace solution. Working with your stakeholders to get a clear picture of needs and expectations is an important way to create a return to work strategy that fits the needs of your people. Ultimately, making sure that workers return in a way that they are happy and comfortable with is key to maintain a positive working culture. 

Once you have scheduled a return to the office with your team, try to find fun, positive and safe ways to welcome them back to face-to-face. You should treat their welcome back as another kind of onboarding, you are introducing them to a new way of working post-pandemic. What information do they need to know upon their return, what does their new schedule look like? It is important to take time to reassure your employees of safety measures in place in the office and remind them of all the great collaborative and social opportunities that come with re-entering the workplace.

Planning COVID-safe, fun team activities and working practices is a great way to encourage your team to enjoy the benefits of being back. Is there green space near your office to conduct outdoor meetings, or morning yoga sessions? Bringing your team together for a welcome back creative session is another great way to get them feeling energised and excited for their return to the office – Hubspot have some great techniques for you to try out.

Remind them of their purpose

Every person you hired to your organisation joined feeling excited to join your company, to deliver their purpose and further their professional ambitions. With phenomena such as ‘boreout’ – what happens when we are bored by our work to the point that we feel it is totally meaningless – on the rise following long stretches working from home, it has never been more important to reignite that spark and remind your people why they joined your company, why they love their job and of their purpose. 

A great way to start with this is to encourage sit downs between each person within your organisation, and their line manager. This is an opportunity to gauge how each person within your business is doing, personally and professionally. It is also time to revisit their KPIs and interrogate whether their targets are still relevant and aligned with where they see their purpose and passion. I like to describe this as ‘knowing your seat on the bus’ – culture is key within our business, and if an employee is a great cultural fit but struggles with performance, we first look at their role within the organisation. Is the ‘seat’ they are currently in speaking to their passions and ambitions, playing to their strengths, and making them feel positive and empowered? This is a practice that companies such as Forbes successfully engage in and allows us to take a people-first approach, intuitively shaping roles and team structures around the strengths of our existing employees. 

These conversations will allow employees and line managers to have a clear picture of their team dynamics upon return to the office – giving an opportunity to map out clear and structured roles and responsibilities within your teams, empowering them to own their space and reminding them of their purpose. This blog by Organimi gives some visual examples of team structures, which may help to spark your imagination when mapping out your organisational roles and responsibilities.

Culture is key

SmartPA is a people and culture driven business. Who we are is at the core of what we do, and cultural cornerstones can be felt from the moment you step into our building, to how we present ourselves to clients, and is reflected in the attitudes of our team. 

Establishing and maintaining a strong connection to your organisational culture is key for inspiring and unifying your employees, creating a strong sense of working identity and delivering a consistent brand experience for clients. Giving your team a shared sense of purpose and accomplishment builds them into brand advocates, improves productivity and decreases turnover.

We offer a vibrant and high-energy workspace, creating a positive and motivating place for our teams to connect and thrive with a shared purpose. We work within a relatively flat structure, allowing greater permeation of ideas throughout the business and proximity to leadership for our less experienced and entry-level team members. Working in this way creates a culture of performance and accountability and offers every person the opportunity to have their ideas heard. This is great for every level of the organisation as it creates a supportive learning environment for new employees, where their voices are heard and they can learn directly from leadership, and for senior members of staff who can benefit from fresh perspectives.

Refreshing employee’s cultural connection to your business is an important way to combat burnout – it reminds them of your collective purpose and will help to revitalise their passion.

Manage energy, rather than time

Finally, encouraging healthy work-life boundaries and lifestyle choices is a hugely important part of combating burnout and getting the best from your people. I like to encourage my team to manage their energy, rather than their time.

Encouraging your team to take their lunches, go for walks, and ensure they are staying energised throughout the day is also key to ensure that their work-life balance is supported. Avoid rewarding presenteeism and instead work with your people to place focus on results ahead of hours worked. 

According to Gallup, employees whose line manager is always willing to listen to work-related problems that they are facing are 62% less likely to be burned out. Fostering open communication and having a willingness to be present for your team and work with them to overcome problems is key to catching early signs of burnout and avoiding problems spiralling out of control. It is important that you treat your employees as humans rather than productivity machines – even the best people can have bad days.

Fighting burnout is key to creating a successful business and consistent brand experience. Protecting the wellbeing of workers will support customer excellence and growth, creating brand ambassadors both internally and externally and securing both employee and client retention.

About the Author

Sarra Bejaoui

Sarra Bejaoui

Sarra Bejaoui, is the Founder and Managing Director of SmartPA. As a global business leader, Sarra drives SmartPA in its quest to challenge the perception and experience of the PA and business support sector, transforming the lives of individual SmartPAs and their clients.

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