Tips and Tricks for Managing Burnout in Hybrid Work Model

We can be anywhere, at any time and still be able to communicate effectively with our colleagues; conjure up new ideas; and drive success for our overall business. Because many businesses are either largely maintaining their work-from-home policies, or at the very least are implementing a hybrid model, business leaders are trying to best prepare their teams for success. A big part of the productivity equation, however, now means knowing when to step away. After all, the more time we spent working from home, the more we felt our professional obligations bleed into our personal ones.

Tips and Tricks for Managing Burnout in Hybrid Work Model

In this article, you’ll learn how to see the signs of employee burnout, and how to make sure every employee is getting the work-life balance they need to succeed.

In this article you’ll learn how to:

  • See the signs of employee burnout
  • Create an ongoing feedback loop
  • Build unity and understanding
  • Focus on flexibility
  • Put wellness at the center of HR initiatives

Content Summary

Introduction
Know the Signs of Burnout
Create an Ongoing Feedback Loop
Build Unity and Understanding
Focus on Flexibility
Put Wellness at the Center of HR Initiatives
Find Unique Ways to Nurture Your Community
Drive Alignment to Activate Collaboration
Final Tips and Takeaways

Introduction

The way we work has forever changed; our ability to collaborate is no longer limited by our location.

We can be anywhere, at any time and still be able to communicate effectively with our colleagues, conjure up new ideas, and drive success for our overall business. Because many businesses are either largely maintaining their work-from-home policies, or at the very least are implementing a hybrid model, business leaders are trying to best prepare their teams for success.

A big part of the productivity equation, however; now means knowing when to step away. After all, the more time we spent working from home, the more we felt our professional obligations bleed into our personal ones.

Despite their very different company backgrounds, all participants had similar experiences and learnings from the past year. As you assess your work policies and seek new ways to engage, empower and support your colleagues, consider these seven takeaways from our experts.

Know the Signs of Burnout

People feel and respond to burnout in very different ways. While some people may become more docile, others will respond to new tasks or feedback in an angry or hostile way. But our panel shared that, in their experience, all employees conveyed similar signs when they were feeling burnt out.

In this new world of work, video meetings are the norm. And we have lots of them. Teams have packed employees’ calendars with back to back meetings, giving them little time to stretch, absorb information or even complete tasks. Sitting in these meetings and engaging with a digital screen is “a lot more draining than interacting with people in person,” noted Pawlak. It’s also making it more difficult for employees to draw boundaries between work and home.

Managers should take a moment to look for explicit and implicit signs of burnout. One of the most common ones, according to Carroll, is silence. “One of the clear signs that people are burnt out is that their cameras are off and nobody is talking,” she said. When this happens, managers should embrace the discomfort and create an open forum for people to engage, ask questions and, in some cases, express concerns.

Expert tips for tackling burnout

A very simple, yet effective, method to gauge burnout or risk of burnout is asking how much time your team has blocked off to do actual work. If it’s very little, then you know something has got to give and you, as a manager, can get in front of it before your employees get burnt out.” – Derek Schlicker

Rather than diving right into their typical meeting agendas right away, we encourage managers to ask team members how they’re really doing. We’re leaning on our management team to keep a pulse on the organization and support our employees through this really challenging time.” – Megan Pawlak

Creating room for people to speak up about how they feel ultimately helps eliminate the shame they may be feeling [about being burnt out]. I think that’s going to be very important moving forward.” – Stacey Carroll

Create an Ongoing Feedback Loop

Employee feedback allows executives and HR leaders to keep a constant pulse on what the workforce is thinking and feeling. It allows us to identify new opportunities to build our culture. Most of all, it helps us identify which programs and initiatives are working, and which are not, so we can make the appropriate improvements.

But as we shifted to a work-from-home model, many leaders didn’t have that immediate access to employees. Everyone grew more dispersed, which made feedback collection time-consuming, complicated and frustrating for all parties. Not to mention, there are many people who are innately hesitant to share their true feelings because they don’t want it to impact their image or position in the organization. Panelists emphasized the need to create an ongoing feedback loop that includes direct and anonymous feedback, as well as more implicit, behavioral data and insights. The return to the office will be a slow, ongoing process and this information will be invaluable for executive leaders and HR teams as they continue to refine their plans.

Expert tips for gathering and analyzing employee feedback

Double down on making sure the people leaders are checking in with employees regularly. They’re the ones interacting directly with employees. I noticed some leaders were reverting back to their old behaviors of tracking people just by looking at whether they were online. As HR leaders, it’s our job to keep those behaviors in check and work through managers.” – Stacey Carroll

We’re thinking specifically about ways to gather as much authentic feedback as possible. Specifically, doing one-on-one touch-base meetings, doing pulse surveys that allow us to get more anonymous feedback and using their input to guide how we showed up as leaders.” – Derek Schlicker

We send out an engagement survey twice a year, and we’ve been tracking one specific question focused on whether employees believe their workload is reasonable for their job role. We track those insights at the company, unit and team level. We then look for patterns and share the results with managers to narrow our focus and take action where necessary .” – Melissa Isaza

Build Unity and Understanding

Working from home can sometimes be an isolating experience. You wake up, venture to your workspace (sometimes still in your pajamas), put your head down, do your work and step away when you can. You have dinner, go to sleep, wake up and do it all again. This impacts interpersonal communication and collaboration, and makes it more difficult for employees to set—and reinforce—personal boundaries.

Sure, video meetings help us communicate with colleagues “face to face,” but many have noted that even the best technology cannot replace the magic that comes with true in-person connection. In fact, Pawlak noted that more employees at Apeel Sciences reverted back to very siloed ways of working. Work-from-home life encourages everyone to remain in their own isolated worlds and only communicate with the people they need to work with on any given day. Moving forward, organizations will need to think of small actions to encourage sporadic conversations and idea sharing, especially if they offer more flexible work arrangements moving forward.

Although this communication certainly impacts productivity, it also impacts the overall culture and employee sentiment. That is why many People and Culture leaders focused on creating empathy, unity and understanding within their organizations. At Unbounce, the team created a “common language” around how everyone was feeling on a given day. Isaza referred to “The Line” from the Conscious Leadership Group, which creates a clear boundary between feeling excited and in a growth mindset (above the line) and lacking energy and concentration (below the line). Communicating these definitions and encouraging everyone to use helps to get everyone on the same page, supporting greater empathy and understanding.

Expert tips for uniting disparate teams

We may have times where we feel really irritable or cynical—and those feelings are showing up in our work. The biggest thing for us all to remember is it’s okay to feel that and to be kind and gentle with ourselves. Creating a common language creates common ground, and that gives us space to have productive conversations.” – Melissa Isaza

[Working from home] created some challenges with cross department collaboration and made teams feel siloed. Previously, you could just go have a coffee or lunch with a person, but we’ve lost that human element because we can’t see what the other person is really doing. So, we’re trying little things to encourage that crossover. For example, if there is someone you used to bump into in the hallway all the time, just Slack them to say hello and see how they’re doing.” – Megan Pawlak

Focus on Flexibility

Throughout the pandemic, parents and caregivers had to juggle a lot of responsibilities. In addition to their typical task lists for work, which many saw overwhelmingly expand, many had to also manage homeschooling and caring for loved ones.

The pandemic taught executive leaders and HR teams to look at their employees through a new lens. They weren’t just part of the headcount; they were humans struggling to maintain productivity and balance their increasingly demanding work and personal lives. Many organizations tried to alleviate some of the pressure by implementing flexible schedules. This gave employees more autonomy over their time and schedules, and encouraged them to address important personal situations as they emerged. As teams return to the office, many people want these more flexible arrangements to continue.

Expert tips for supporting flexibility

Parents have had to juggle caregiving, school and other obligations, so we’ve focused on being super flexible with the workday. Part of that means recording as many of our meetings as we possibly can, so people can refer to them on-demand, and on any device.” – Derek Schlicker

We also have been encouraging flexibility lately. In the past, we were very intentional about the hours we worked, but we had to recognize that people didn’t just want to, but had to, embrace flexibility. For some people, that meant logging off at three and coming back later in the evening.” – Melissa Isaza

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can be more intentional with our hybrid work strategy. We went into this phase without thinking about what our schedules looked like and how our time would be spent when we were in the office together. Are we using that time to do brainstorming, thoughtful work or goal setting?” – Stacey Carroll

Put Wellness at the Center of HR Initiatives

HR teams play a central role in building and nurturing a company’s culture. Specific programs and initiatives help bring that culture to life, reaffirming company values and mission statements. During the pandemic specifically, many HR leaders had to double down on their efforts and, in some cases, come up with new programs to support their employees and their emotional, mental and physical well-being.

Experts shared very diverse insights, offering perspectives on what worked, what didn’t and ways they plan to improve in the future. One of the underlying themes was rethinking how time off should be categorized and measured. At a time when many people have had to juggle personal and professional obligations, our panelists reaffirmed the importance of flexibility and work-life balance. Some removed limits on paid time off, while most launched programs that supported mental health and wellness.

Expert tips for optimizing your HR programs

We’ve implemented an unlimited PTO policy. We drive down the message that people need to take the time off, from the C-suite, down. And when they do, we want to make sure they have full coverage so they can really unplug.” – Derek Schlicker

During this time, we didn’t want there to be any stigma or differentiation between a sick day and a wellness day. We believe mental health is just as important as physical health, so we combined them into one category called ‘wellness days.’ All of our employees also have access to our company Headspace meditation app account and get a $500 annual health and wellness allowance that they can use for workout clothes, art supplies, counseling—whatever they need to enrich their overall well-being.” – Melissa Isaza

Find Unique Ways to Nurture Your Community

During lockdowns, companies had to put all of their in-person community-building efforts on hold. But innovative HR teams saw this challenge as an opportunity. They encouraged employees to break free from work, find personal fulfillment and have some fun with their colleagues.

These quick pivots have uncovered new ways to nurture company communities beyond the office, whether it’s with virtual cooking classes or doing “walking meetings” outside.

Expert tips for authentic community building

We’ve been doing a lot of virtual team-building activities. We’ve done gardening classes, cooking classes and art classes to create those spaces to bring people together in a way that feels natural online.” – Melissa Isaza

When we were working from home, we would take some of our meetings outside and do them on our phones while moving. And honestly, just getting out and moving makes a big difference.” – Stacey Carroll

Drive Alignment to Activate Collaboration

Many employees have relocated over the past year because they no longer felt tethered to a specific office. Although many companies are opening the doors to their buildings again, some are not forcing employees to come into the office. This hybrid scenario offers people the flexibility they crave. But it also can activate silos and make it more difficult for employees to find alignment and common ground.

Some panelists noted the role that HR and executive leaders play in ensuring that specific teams and individuals understand the unique role they play in big-picture goals. OKRs can help create a clear and consistent process for documenting these goals and tracking progress, encouraging everyone to rally around a set of common goals, even if they’re on the other side of the world.

Expert tips for creating alignment

Our goal is for all employees to understand how their day-to-day rolls up to the top-line strategy. We want them to see the impact that their work has and how they’re involved in creating our success.” – Melissa Isaza

Make OKRs as sticky as possible within your organization. We only have five O’s for the entire organization, so they’re very easy for everyone to remember. Then everything we do, every request we make, ties to these OKRs. This gets everyone to speak that same language. We connect our employees to the OKRs and keep talking about them through all-hands meetings to check in on progress.” – Melissa Isaza

Final Tips and Takeaways

Connect before content. When you have a meeting, prioritize time in your agenda to connect, check-in and build your relationships with colleagues. – Melissa Isaza Director, People and Culture at Unbounce

Treat your employees like individuals. All their situations are unique. Check-in with them regularly, keep clear priorities and focus on managing employees through performance. – Stacey Carroll Director of Human Resources at TKK Communications

Realize it’s not about work-life balance; it’s work-life blend. There are things happening in the world that are going to impact your employees and it’s good to make space to have conversations about these issues. – Megan Pawlak Director, People and Culture at Apeel Sciences

Narrow down your priorities to the 10 things you want to get done each week. If you think you can get only eight of those things done, have a conversation around what you choose not to do. – Derek Schlicker CFO at Quantivate