The Workforce Is Exhausted, It’s Time for Companies to Redesign “Work”

Efforts to keep things as normal as possible during the pandemic has only led to virtual overload. Employers need to “unlearn old habits and fundamentally rethink work design”. 

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

This article was originally published by Allwork.Space.

Almost 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and workers are exhausted. And Zoom isn’t entirely to blame. Recent surveys have found that companies are dealing with an exhausted workforce, despite increased productivity levels.

Microsoft report concluded that “self-assessed productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, but at a human cost.” According to Microsoft’s data:

  • 54% of workers feel overworked.
  • 39% of workers feel exhausted.

To reach this conclusion, Microsoft compared collaboration trends in its products between February 2020 and February 2021. Here are some key figures:

  • Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled (2.5X) globally.
  • The average Teams user is sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats per person after hours.
  • The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes.
  • There has been a 66 percent increase in the number of people working on documents.
  • Despite meeting and chat overload, 50 percent of people respond to Teams chats within five minutes or less.

On a similar note, a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 48% of US workers feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the workday, while 41% feel burned out from their work.

The increase in intensity of the workday and the pressure workers are feeling isn’t too surprising. Most businesses were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as a result, companies worldwide began to lay off staff and suspend contracts in efforts to cut spending.

This meant that those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs were unlucky enough to be handed extra responsibilities—while also juggling home responsibilities and dealing with the mental load of living in pandemic times.

The way work is designed isn’t helping matters either.

recent Gartner report argues that “current virtualized work design models are damaging employees’ well-being and productivity.”

According to Gartner’s report, by trying to recreate office features online—like virtualizing on-site practices, adding monitoring systems, and increasing meetings—companies made worker fatigue worse.

Basically, efforts to keep things as normal as possible has only led to virtual overload.

Gartner reports that employees who spend more time in meetings now vs pre-pandemic times are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained.

If workers are struggling mentally and emotionally, it’s only natural for their performance and productivity to decrease. In fact, Gartner argues that employee performance decreases by as much as 33%.

What Can Companies Do?

Gartner argues that the only way to battle this exhaustion crisis is to “unlearn old habits and fundamentally rethink work design”. Specifically, companies need to reimagine their approach to hybrid work if they want to attract and retain top talent.

Research has found that 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year. Companies that require their employees to go back to the office full-time could lose up to 39% of their workforce.

There’s a lot at stake.

Reimagining Work Design

When the pandemic hit, many companies reacted by trying to replicate office features in a digital environment. While this worked for some time, this is not sustainable in the long run—that much is clear from recent worker sentiment surveys.

Rather than focusing on replicating the office, companies would greatly benefit from creating a worker-centric hybrid model.

Gartner proposes the following to increase performance and reduce worker fatigue in hybrid work arrangements:

  1. More flexibility
  2. Enabling intentional collaboration
  3. Empathy-based management.

Employee-driven Flexibility

The more flexibility a company offers employees, the better. Specifically, “employers should adopt an employee-driven approach to flexible working that empower employees to choose where, when and how they work.”

Increased flexibility will allow workers to better integrate their personal and professional lives, which can reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue levels. Flexibility also allows employees to work whenever it suits them best—which translates into improved performance and increased productivity levels.

Rather than having workers sitting in front of their computers while their minds are on other matters, allowing them to have a say can help ensure that they will be fully focused on their work responsibilities.

Intentional Collaboration

Companies can’t replicate water-cooler moments online. Even though various platforms exist that aim to replicate such encounters, people collaborate better in-person. Collaboration is one of the main reasons why workers want to go back to the office post-pandemic.

According to Gartner, rather than waiting for these water cooler moments to occur, leaders need to prioritize “innovation by design”. This means that leaders should take it upon themselves to create encounters between employees, both in-office and remote.

In simpler words, companies need to find effective ways to bridge their physical and digital worlds.

Empathy-based Management

This starts by nurturing a company culture that creates a safe place for workers to voice their concerns and talk openly about how they are feeling. Managers need to take time to talk to each team member and remind them that taking breaks is not only necessary, but also encouraged.

Managers need to lead by example; they need to take breaks themselves and be the ones that open communication lines with employees.

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