We're all feeling exhausted - and that's a problem for employers
Posted on 8th February 2021 at 09:27
How tired are you?
Look around you. Are your team their usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed selves?
As a country, as a workforce, we’re exhausted.
Ground down. Days merge into each other, an endless cycle of work/eat/sleep/repeat without the prospect – for weeks or months to come - of a holiday, a family visit or even a trip to the next town for a mooch around the shops or to watch a football match.
Why are employees so tired now?
Anxiety, depression and burnout are soaring.
Those who are working, are working longer hours than ever – with home workers logged into their work computers for 2 hours a day longer than they were before the pandemic.
Parents (although the statistics suggest this more often falls to mothers) are trying to juggle two full-time jobs - work and home-schooling. They are, perhaps, the lucky ones.
Mothers (for it is predominantly them again) whose jobs can't be done at home are, in large numbers, being given an impossible choice by their employers; to choose between going to work and leaving their children home alone, or looking after their children and/or home-schooling on unpaid leave.
We have Zoom fatigue from too many online meetings, especially when they are scheduled back to back, with no opportunity to gather your thoughts between meetings. Many people are missing the act of commuting for no other reason than the break it offered between meetings.
Those who have jobs are worried about keeping them. Those without jobs are wondering when they will ever be able to work again. Promotions have halved since COVID-19 began.
Endless days of furlough. Or rotating weeks of furlough and work, where you don’t really get long enough of either to operate at your optimum level. And all the while wondering if your colleagues are talking about how you have it easy, and how they are working hard while you’re having a long holiday. A holiday in which you can’t go anywhere or do anything, and probably can’t afford to do much either, on 80% of your normal income.
Money worries. Concerns about sick, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable family and friends. Worrying about catching the virus. Worrying about delays to essential medical procedures because of the virus. Mourning those who died too soon. Loneliness. Concerns about children’s academic development and mental health.
Anxiety about being at work, and whether your employer cares about your health at all. The HSE have already received around 2,600 complaints from whistle-blowers about workplaces where social distancing isn’t being observed, with a quarter of these complaints coming in October and November 2020.
And there has been a 64% increase in stress-related sick days during 2020, with (unsurprisingly) healthcare workers experiencing a 146% increase on the previous year, and (equally unsurprisingly) HR professionals showing a 70% increase on the previous year.
Even the most resilient among us have found winter lockdowns difficult.
And then, of course, there's Brexit.
As an economy, but more importantly at individual workplace level, we have a problem. A grave problem, that very few people seem to be taking seriously.
Why is exhaustion an employer's problem?
Employers who are looking forward to a post-vaccination world opening up again, with all the opportunities that a booming economy may bring, are banking on their teams being able to ramp up their performance to meet the new challenges.
I suggest you need to think again.
Your team are too tired. They have dragged themselves through the last year with many probably not taking their full holiday entitlement, and even if they have, they haven’t experienced the kind of getting away from it all break they would normally have had.
The only people more tired than your team are their managers, their HR team, and business owners. It’s been a hell of a year for everyone.
Of course, none of them will tell you in so many words. They don’t want to let the side down. They don’t want to lose their jobs. They don’t want to appear weak, or uncommitted, or…human.
I don’t have all the answers for you - no-one does. But I do know this.
When people are stretched too thin, and for too long, they will eventually break.
People who are tired, or anxious, or depressed, or otherwise feeling more stress in their lives than they’re able to cope with, do not make good decisions. They don’t manage people well. They get snappy with each other, with customers and suppliers, and with their teams. They make simple mistakes they are too tired to spot. Mistakes that could cost your business dearly.
And that makes exhaustion your problem too.
What can employers do to support their managers and employees?
The mental health of your employees is more important now than ever. You need to support your team more than ever to get them through the next few months.
And if you are a manager or business owner, you need to make sure you have your own support in place too.
I know you are busy. I know your business is dangling by a thread, desperately trying to stay afloat, and you need all hands to the pump. I know you think your workforce should be thankful they have a job. I’m sure they are.
But your exhausted and emotionally depleted employees may be a bigger risk to the operational resilience of your business than even your financial situation. And if you don’t do something now, you run the risk of them breaking down, unable to cope with any more.
So, talk to your employees about the positive things they could be doing to look after themselves. And do it in a way that shows you care about them, as individuals, and not just about your business.
Encourage them to switch off the laptop and not check messages in the evenings.
Make it clear you don’t expect, or encourage, emails, texts or phone calls out of hours, and practice what you preach.
Have a team challenge to walk a certain number of miles each week in the fresh air.
Encourage them to drink plenty of water and eat healthily.
Suggest some apps to help them get to sleep at night.
Have regular coffee-break check-ins during working hours so that people can maintain strong social links with their colleagues.
Hire in some temporary support so your team can take some time off.
Talk to them about mental health, and the challenges they face in their personal and professional lives. Ask them what would help them right now. And help them to achieve that.
And if you don’t feel equipped to have these conversations, find out more about mental health. Read a book or listen to podcasts on the subject. Consult an expert. Train some of your team to be Mental Health First Aiders.
While we wait, hopefully, for the vaccine programme to rescue us from lockdown, there is plenty you can do that will help ensure your workforce – and you - are in a better place to cope with the challenges the future holds.
So, what will you do?
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