Employees are exhausted and burnt out – and so are employers

September 25, 2021

Employees are exhausted and burnt out — and so are employers.

Nike recognized this mental health breaking point and recently announced it would close its headquarters office for a week to give employees a break. The company posted a statement online that employees were to “take this time to unwind, destress and spend time with your loved ones. Do not work.” The move came as a result of employees feeling burnt out.

One Nike worker posted on LinkedIn, ‘It’s not just a “week off” for the team … it’s an acknowledgment that we can prioritize mental health and still get work done.”

Dating app Bumble did a similar move this past April. The New York Times reported earlier this month that organizations, including Richmond advertising agency Martin, made similar moves, including extending breaks to combat the stress.

There are many factors conflating at one time to cause this unusual increase in pure breakdown-inducing fatigue. Work overload, lack of staffing and child care, ongoing remote work, the looming pandemic and racial/social injustice issues all have no end in sight. When Labor Day came and went without the anticipated “return to normal,” many employees simply hit rock bottom.

Business owners, leaders and managers are equally burnt out trying to navigate all of this and show a positive front.

There is no magic bullet here, but there are some things that employers are discussing or doing to alleviate some of the current employee/employer concerns.

First and foremost, everyone, including leaders, need to practice self-care. For most of us, it’s difficult to recognize our need for a mental break, and then even more difficult to take action to do something. There is a reason that flight attendants tell passengers to put on their oxygen first before helping others. If you are low on oxygen, it’s going to be hard to give it to others.

Employers should continue to offer paid time off either continuously or intermittently for mental health breaks. Few employers can shut down entirely for some period of time, but a rolling time off or additional mental health days would be welcomed by employees.

Many employees report that they want to continue to work from home in some capacity, but employers who have returned employees onsite part or full-time are finding that employees are actually much happier to be around colleagues, and this is especially true with younger workers. Virtual engagement is convenient, but it can’t replace the relationships that form working in the same location together. Employers should be offering onsite return-to-work options.

One woman who started her job at a Richmond-based company virtually after college graduation was extremely unhappy working there until she returned to the office onsite two months ago. Since then, she reports being much happier, enjoying the job and the company, and making new friends, including lunches out and after-work happy hours.

It’s also time to let employees who feel comfortable doing so travel for conferences or to meet clients. I just returned from speaking at a national conference in Las Vegas, with 10,000 attendees. As a fully vaccinated attendee, I felt completely safe. The energy of being with other people and interacting cannot be overstated.

Employers also need to rethink vaccine mandates where no government mandate exists. Most employees are likely vaccinated. For those who aren’t, employers can put in mitigation strategies. This is the No. 1 question I get from readers, some of whom work remotely or in offices of a few people.

If your business doesn’t interact with at-risk populations, weigh the value of a vaccine mandate. Give employees paid time off to get the vaccine and to recover from any side effects. Continue to promote the vaccine. The stress and effort these mandates are having on employees, human resources and management cannot be overstated.

Take care of your own. If you are giving thousand dollar sign-on bonuses for new hires, what are you doing for your current employees? While money can’t fix everything, recognition or retention bonuses will be appreciated.

Show empathy and show grace, but also set reasonable expectations and hold employees accountable. Employers have also shared that some employees have taken advantage of their generosity, which also causes other employees to have to work harder, fueling added resentment.

Finally, actively provide and promote mental health resources, and make emotional well-being a priority. Employers can tap into their insurance plan or employee assistance programs for onsite or virtual confidential assistance to employees. Employers should share readily the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number — 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Institute of Mental Health also provides valuable resources at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health.