When the pandemic first began, life hit me with a one-two-three (maybe four-five?) punch: job loss for my spouse; kids’ school shutting down, lockdown in our home with 24/7 family time; cooking, cooking, and more cooking; and a complete halt to gatherings with friends and family and social activities. Several months into the pandemic and lockdown, my kids still had not returned to school, an aging loved one moved in with us, and I went from “working mom” to “working mom who has to balance caregiving, Zoom calls for everyone in my house, educating my kids, performing the majority of household duties, and caring for the emotional state of all my family members.” So many colleagues questioned how I was doing it. And to be honest, I don’t know. But I do know that after many months of pushing through this climate of the unknown, I’m fried. Done. Toast. Burned out.
The first sign happened in late March: I noticed it was harder and harder to focus on the simplest of tasks. The second sign? How long it took me to complete tasks that once took minutes. That’s when it hit me: After more than a year into the pandemic, my work-life balance had disappeared. Those once-quiet moments are now filled with squeezing in work or tasks for my family, because when you’re juggling so much, time is everything—making it much harder to recharge and refuel my mindset.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, I'm not alone. A recent New York Times article framed burnout like this:
“Call it a late-pandemic crisis of productivity, of will, of enthusiasm, of purpose. Call it a bout of existential work-related ennui provoked partly by the realization that sitting in the same chair in the same room staring at the same computer for 12 straight months (and counting!) has left many of us feeling like burned-out husks, dimwitted approximations of our once-productive selves.”
I couldn’t agree more, and there’s a good chance your people are feeling this way, too. More than 70% of workers reported burnout at least once last year. And MetLife's 18th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study 2020 highlights this new work-life reality we’re all in, noting that “2 in 3 employees feel more stressed than before the COVID-19 pandemic,” and 77% say they struggle because today’s technology makes it tough to “switch off” or leave their work behind at the end of the day. In today’s work-life world, we’re “always on,” according to the study, “forcing people to manage their priorities in dramatically different ways.”
While employers can’t control their people’s personal circumstances, they can play a big role in supporting them through all the twists and turns of today’s modern life. Employees who feel that their employer supports their overall well-being ultimately feel heard, valued, and respected, according to the MetLife study. And this leads to a boost in morale and productivity.
For example, the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Gallup Panel™ studies found that employees who are burned out are more likely to:
- Use emergency services
- Take a sick day
- Look for another job
And less likely to:
- Discuss their performance goals with their managers
- Feel confident in their performance at work
Translation? How you communicate about your benefits during this challenging time is crucial. The benefits, resources, and tools you offer to your people are only as valuable as your communications about them.
Reach Your People Where They Are
Here are 5 ways to help you cut through employee burnout and fatigue and ensure that your benefits communications reach your employees’ ears.
- Communicate often and with purpose. With more and more folks working from home, fatigue is high; more than two-thirds of employees say they have signs of burnout as they continue to work from home. And that’s no secret: People are super overwhelmed, and they’ve been operating in this environment for quite some time, flexing and adapting with pandemic life as the rules shift and change. So they may not read or pay attention to your benefits communications the first time they see them. Or even the second time. This means you may need to communicate more often—and with purpose. The more you communicate with your people about their benefits and about those that are most relevant to them, the greater the chances your message will actually stick—and that your people will take any action you’re asking of them.
- Keep your communications short and concise. You don’t want to make it difficult for your people to understand the what’s-in-it-for-me message or bury the action you want them to take. As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, research shows that “ ... concentration, memory, and cognition suffer when people are under stress and anxiety, and that’s especially true when it builds for months.” Small tweaks to your message, including fewer words, shorter sentences, and simple, clear language can go a long way in engaging employees who are having a hard time focusing these days.
- Be disruptive when appropriate. Stress, worry, and fear of the unknown have been, and continue to be, at an all-time high for many. Combine all this with the fact that people are on technology nonstop and a good portion of your population may be accustomed to some kind of instant gratification or stimulation when they view content on their smart devices. Disruptive messaging—those that are bold, attention grabbing, or with few words and strong visuals—disrupts just enough to capture the attention of folks who are bombarded with emails, social media feeds, news alerts, and text messages all day long.
- Be empathetic when you talk to your people. By now, your employees have likely dealt with a range of challenges: spouse/partner job loss, kids learning from home, lack of child care or adult care, isolation, loneliness, depression, fear of COVID-19, financial stress, and worry about loved ones they haven’t seen. But there’s nothing worse than experiencing some or several of these life challenges and receiving messages from leadership or HR that come across as flat, feel tone-deaf, or make folks feel like they’re not a real person. Ask yourself, would I say this to my friend on the phone? Or is this how I’d describe this benefit to my mother? When you humanize the message, you become authentic and sincere, which goes a long way with people these days.
- Make sure your communication makes sense. To really get at this, you need to have your finger on the pulse of, or an idea of what’s most important to, your people at this time, right now. For example, you may typically send out a summer mailer that reminds folks about the benefits available to them and how to use them. But in light of the pandemic, you know people are really struggling mentally, emotionally, and financially. The best communications address employees’ needs in the moment, which means you may need to pivot and rework that summer mailer to reflect what’s most important to your people now. That’s the message they need to hear, and it’s one that won’t fall flat.
Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks to Counter Burnout
As for my own case of burnout, I’ve had to deploy a few different tips, tricks, and life hacks to get myself back on track, including:
- Working out first thing every morning. I sit so much throughout the day and juggle so many needs, that I need that time, to myself, to sweat and get my heart rate up. This alone has a profound effect on how I show up at my job each day.
- Writing down my meetings and to-dos for the next day before I log off my computer. This is something a colleague of mine (thanks, Megan!) suggested to me. It really grounds me in knowing what the next day is like for me, the meetings I have, and the work that absolutely must get done that day.
- Figuring out quick tasks to get done between meetings, and doing them. Sometimes that’s answering an email or question on our messaging platform. Other times, it’s reviewing edits and posting the document for the next reviewer. I also physically cross off my to-dos once I’ve done my part. That’s helped to reduce my stress a lot.
- Stopping work by 6 p.m., and limiting or avoiding working late at night as much as possible. It’s taken me a really long time to accept this. As a working mom, late night hours can be precious working time. But I’ve had a tough internal conversation with myself to recognize I’m really no good late at night. Burning the midnight oil doesn’t make me better at my job. In fact, it just makes me fried and unhappy.
- Tracking what I eat in a food app, and focusing on drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water each day. I have a big water bottle I keep with me at all times. And I grab a glass of water with my favorite Emergen-C flavor first thing in the morning to wake me up and hydrate me.
- Going to bed before 10 p.m. I get up pretty early (5:15 a.m.!) to exercise, but if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, nothing gets done. And if I miss a workout, my day is just off, so I really do my best to follow this one. Honestly, I tend to crash by 9:30 p.m. most evenings because I’m so tired.
- And the newest technique I’m going to try is the Pomodoro Method, which gives you a big clock with 25 minutes to crank out work. The idea is to focus on work in bursts instead of staring at your computer screen, dragging out assignments, and feeling like you aren’t accomplishing tasks as your to-do list gets longer.
My Biggest Tip?
Ask for help. I can't do it all, nor do I know it all. So, with my workouts, I have my trainer with me. With my kids’ schoolwork, my husband steps in to help.
We're all discovering and exploring new ideas to deal with burnout. In fact, it's come up during many conversations with clients, and here at Segal Benz, we are excited to help them shape their benefits communications strategy with addressing burnout in mind.
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.