Battling the Burnout: A silent pandemic

This week, LinkedIn released its Workforce Confidence Index ‘mental health’ survey. It revealed that two in five professionals are experiencing increased stress or anxiety due to covid-19, and as the pandemic took hold only one in five professionals were offered more time off for well-being. With each passing month, many organisations are discovering the dark side of WFH as reports of work-related depression and anxiety are increasing. It has also led to the rise of chief wellness officers in organisations across the globe.

What began as a sprint meant to end in two months has turned out to be a marathon with no finishing line in sight

A few months back, Anand (name changed) switched his job but a few weeks into it, things started getting awfully tough for him. “Everything was new to me and without meeting anyone in person, I lost out on many opportunities for unconscious learning that happens when you interact on an everyday basis with your colleagues. The pressure to deliver has been immense but to make things worse, it is all happening inside my home, which also belongs to my family. In a way, the idea of home has been snatched away. What began as a sprint meant to end in two months has turned out to be a marathon with no finishing line in sight,” says Anand, who now has plans to quit it the moment he completes a year here. “I cannot be battling self-esteem issues on a daily basis.”

If there is one thing that organisations can do to foster empathy in a situation like this is to establish trust as default. Unfortunately, it is hard to build that in a time like this, if you do not already have that with your teams

We are living through unprecedented times and it is important to accept that. “If there is one thing that organisations can do to foster empathy in a situation like this is to establish trust as default. Unfortunately, it is hard to build that in a time like this, if you do not already have that with your teams. For starters, don’t switch to surveillance-as-default. Next, create a culture of clear communication, which is the first step towards establishing trust,” says Praval Singh, VP, Zoho Corp, who emphasises that it is working-from-home and not living-at-work.

“There are no weekends for many. The lack of physical boundaries can do that to us. While it may seem like a productivity boost initially, it is counterproductive in the long run. I also feel that trying to replicate an office-like environment while working from home doesn’t necessarily help. Fatigue kicks in real fast when you are sitting before a screen,” says Praval.

The model has clearly not worked for everyone. “The speed of the work gets compromised and a lot more effort goes into doing the same work when done at home. People have the right intentions in place but the medium of communication is at fault here and when this is compounded with unresolved ego issues, the quality goes down and the stress goes up,” says Jayapriya JP, a behavioural and leadership trainer and manager, talent development, Larsen & Toubro, who has been organising several training programmes for employees at work on personal well-being and personal growth. “The truth is that a structure helps employees to work better and you get that in an office.”

Neha Sharma handles the HR initiatives at a startup and when the lockdown began, they realised some issues the employees faced were as fundamental as not having a good internet connection, which is a prerequisite for WFH. “We came up with an internet allowance and added it to their salary. Since the pandemic had no end date to our knowledge, we gave up our physical office space and shifted the chairs to their respective homes so that they could sit comfortably while working in their home,” says Neha.

This is not a regular WFH where kids go to school and you work sitting at home

As long as we work from home, it is important for organisations to do something urgently to fix the silent pandemic of workplace anxiety.  “This is not a regular WFH where kids go to school and you work sitting at home. We have a policy of ‘zero meeting hours’ in a day, which is a window when one is allowed to schedule meetings. We have brought in mandatory offs for the employees apart from the weekends and public holidays,” says Neha.

And it is not work alone that people are attending to on a daily basis. There are household activities to be taken care of. There are school lessons of the kids and attending to the sick and elderly at home. “Letting our teams adjust to their new routines was the first thing that we encouraged our managers to do. When people work from home, there would be distractions that they may not be prepared to handle. Not every text and email need an immediate response. While some members on the team like to start their days early, there are others who prefer to work in blocks-of-time, throughout the day,” says Praval.

Make appreciation a part of your culture and not a one-off activity. Be more open minded and give your employees the benefit of the doubt in such times

It is true that this is a testing time for several managers across organisations. In such a situation, Jaya emphasis on the need to have more non-work engagement with the employees. “Make appreciation a part of your culture and not a one-off activity. Be more open minded and give your employees the benefit of the doubt in such times. You have to build trust in the process. Listen more and be compassionate,” she says. There is a long road ahead in all likelihood. And as we keep walking, it will surely help to have empathy as a companion.

This story was published in The Times of India

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