The start of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many small and medium-size businesses to rapidly pivot how they do business. For most companies, this meant the move to a remote workforce during much of 2020 and even well into 2021. Now many small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) are tackling the new challenge of returning to the workplace after nearly two years of working from home.
A TriNet Rise article on employee burnout released earlier this year discussed results of an SMB survey on how companies were responding to the pandemic and the results of working from home on their workforce. The survey found burnout increased at SMBs—in various amounts depending on company size—during the switch to a remote workforce.
On the flip side of switching to a remote workforce is another situation that can be equally challenging for many employees: returning to the workplace.
Planning for a return to the physical worksite is complex. There is a lot to consider when planning a return to the workplace, including:
- Increased health and safety protocols
- New worksite-specific legislation and guidance at the federal, state and local levels
- Industry-specific mandates
- Logistics of moving employees and their equipment from a work-from-home setting to an in-office one
One major consideration, however, which many employers may not think of until it’s too late, is the mental and emotional toll switching from working at home to returning to the office can take on a workforce that has gotten used to being remote. Burnout is a very real result that can occur from such a change, and it can be damaging to both employees and the business. It’s important for SMBs to understand what burnout is and how to navigate their return to the workplace so as to help reduce the chance of their employees experiencing a damaging burnout.
According to the World Health Organization
, burnout is caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and is characterized by:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- Reduced professional efficacy
How Employee Burnout Impacts SMBs
According to an article on employee burnout from TriNet RISE
, burnout has serious implications
, leading to:
- 376% decrease in the odds of having highly engaged employees
- 87% decrease in the likelihood of them staying with your company
- 22% decreased work output
- 41% decrease in their perception of the employee experience
For SMBs, all of this can—and often does—contribute to loss of work quality and productivity. This can negatively impact the employee, other colleagues and overall company success.
Reducing Burnout by Planning Ahead
There are several ways that SMBs can help prevent and reduce burnout in the workplace
. Here are some suggestions:
- Create an official “return to the workplace” policy and consistently apply it, keeping in mind federal, state, local, and industry-specific requirements that may require some additional considerations. Uncertainty is a stressor that can contribute to burnout, so the clearer we are with our employees, the better. Be sure to consult your HR services provider so you don’t miss anything.
- Survey employees on their concern about returning to the workplace and use this information to inform your policy and plans.
- Communicate clearly and frequently to employees with your plans for worksite returns, updating them as things progress or change. Keep an open line of communication between leaders and employees so your team knows they can ask questions as needed.
- Implement and communicate safety measures that are being taken in the workplace, including cleanliness standards, social distancing guidelines, vaccine policy (that clarifies if the vaccine is required or encouraged, if applicable) and masking requirements. This can go a long way to helping reduce employee concerns regarding health and safety. Make sure you are staying in line with regulations on COVID protocols that affect your industry and location.
- Consider offering a phased approach to returning to the workplace and/or flexibility on when/if all employees even return. If it works for your business, many companies are allowing their employees to still work from home part-time or full-time, or they are slowly moving their teams back by allowing some employees to volunteer to return earlier than others. The ability to choose where and how they work can go a long way to employee wellbeing and retention.
- If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), check to see if your EAP offers any helpful resources to guide you through the process. Communicate to employees that there is an EAP program available to them and how it can help them manage the process of returning to the workplace. If you do not have an EAP program, this is a great time to speak with your benefits provider about offering one.
A successful return to the workplace requires planning and a thoughtful approach. Being clear, consistent and mindful of employees in planning can help reduce employee stress related to the workplace and, ultimately, the damaging burnout that it can cause. This can help create a more successful future for both employees and your business.
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