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Is there a productivity and wellness crisis on the horizon? Here’s how you can help avert burnout

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Working from home: it was supposed to be the ideal way of working that many staff had long been waiting for. With the promise of new-found freedom by removing the need to commute or wear more formal office attire and limiting any unwelcome office interactions all while working from the comfort of home, the Holy Grail of work/life balance finally seemed in sight.

And yet just look at the reality. Whether it’s non-furloughed staff being forced to take on the work of their absent colleagues; or the realisation that at-home distractions aren’t as ignorable as first thought [research from The Economist last December revealed home workers were 12% less productive], the fact of the matter is that home workers have been clocking up more, not less hours. Throw in other contributing factors – such as fears that managers distrust staff working from home; pressure to be ‘always-on’ and lack of discipline/confidence to switch off each day – and it’s no surprise analysis by Harvard Business School shows home-based employees globally are working an additional 48.5 minutes each day. All-told, still working from home will now put in extra month’s work this year compared to pre-pandemic levels.

What leaders need to realise is that extra hours worked does not guarantee more will get done. In fact staff not taking breaks is far more likely to cause serious wellbeing issues. In 2019 WHO officially redefined ‘burnout’ – extreme physical/emotional exhaustion – as a classification of occupational disease, and perhaps unsurprisingly, data shows burnout has been increasing just as home-working has shot up. Some 69% of staff say they are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, according to polling by Monster.

So while academics have long called for previous preoccupations with hours-worked to be replaced by outcomes produced (classic outputs not inputs theory), it now seems a return to looking at time spent working and how many breaks staff are actually taking, is needed – but this time to protect employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, their engagement, and ultimately the company’s performance. Science already proves shorter hours, (with additional breaks) boosts concentration, restores motivation, creates much-needed psychological detachment from work and boosts productivity and innovation. Now employers just need to act on this, and create a culture that embraces this and praises those who take their breaks and work their planned hours productively. 

Saying they support flexible working hours is one thing, but words need backing up with visible interventions. This is where tech comes in. Harnessing technology that specifically asks staff to log when they start/finish work and (crucially) when they take breaks will inject much-needed reassurance to management fearful that their staff might be working for too long and at risk of burnout.

Proper time management technology not only means time be better tracked against activities – including routines being able to be set to help staff manage their time better, but the resulting timesheets created (linking time to output), will help put performance anxious staff at ease. Better still, absence and/or failing performance can also be linked to time-worked (or breaks not taken), allowing any potential problems to be picked up early.

It’s only with such explicit support features as these that more adult conversations about time management, wellness and performance can be created. Consistency around how staff spend their time can be brought to the table, while old myths about the amount of hours worked can be debunked as productivity gains through smarter working habits can be proved, and these behaviours become normalised.

While there’s no magic-solution to stop all staff stressing about the hours they are seen to be working, measures to at least calm insecurities will clearly help. Human behaviour is tough to change, but it can at least be given a boost by tech that proves the point that (especially right now), that life is not all about work and no play.  

New time tracking features have been made available as part of the advanced HR software package Appogee HR Success. Why not book a demo today or try us free for yourself for 14 days to see how we can help you reduce staff burnout and make sure you can monitor them taking breaks!