This week we reach 100 days in lockdown, or so I read on Twitter.
It has been long and long.
Those early pandemic, strange, discombobulated and anxiety filled early days have mostly passed. We have come a long way, but still have far to go. We have made new routines, accommodated new challenges along the way.
From the conversations that I’ve been having in recent weeks however, the main issue people seem to be experiencing right now, is exhaustion.
Juggling work and home, work and childcare, work and home-school. Working from kitchen tables and sofas. Sharing tech and too-small spaces. The constant online meetings demanding a whole different kind of focus. For parents, the thought that there are weeks and weeks more to come.
All too often we seem to have lifted and shifted the way that we worked in the office and moved it online. An all-day meeting? Let’s make it a seven hour Zoom! Some office forced fun? Now it’s in your living room.
We are running the risk not only of having tired employees, but actually burning them out.
How many concessions has your company made for the stress people are under? The balancing they are doing? How flexible are you being? What changes to ways of working have you made?
I sent a few tweets earlier today, prompted by one of the organisations I work with announcing a meeting light fortnight, in which they are encouraging people to cancel all non-essential meetings. The senior team are leading the way by halting their own.
I shared this, along with some thoughts of my own. The rapid number of likes and comments tells me that others recognise this problem too.
We need to think about tiredness. About exhaustion, about burnout. We need to make changes in the way that we are working for the sake of our people’s wellbeing and ongoing mental health. Sometimes, this needs a formal, leadership message to provide the permission.
We need to recognise that being in online meetings all day is different – and more tiring – than sitting in a room with folk. There’s no opportunity to stand up and move around. No walk between meeting rooms even. Long meetings are especially tiring.
It is also too easy at the moment not to take any holiday – because there isn’t anywhere to go. Some of those things that might have got us up from the desk whilst in the workplace – coffee with a friend, nipping out to the shops at lunch, going out for some food – aren’t available either.
These factors, plus the ongoing and ongoing nature of this pandemic, are creating a perfect storm for being utterly, completely and totally knackered.
Here’s what I think we should do:
- Reduce the length of meetings. All meetings should be 45 mins by default to provide for some movement and brain space between them.
- Remind people to take their annual leave. Keep messaging this. Don’t just allow people to carry over leave or build up too much flexi-time. Rest is essential, even if it just more of being at home.
- Have a maximum time limit on online meetings. If you can’t sort it in two hours, do something else. No one needs a day long Zoom.
- Stop meetings over lunch. This will help people find time for a break, and help parents who need to feed their kids.
- If you see people looking visibly tired, check in with them. Ask them how they are, tell them you are worried about them. Encourage them to seek support from their manager.
- Remind people about your wellbeing services. Get senior leaders to be part of the message – it will give the permission to play.
- If you can afford to, give everyone a day off. Wherever possible, the same one. No email, no pressure.
- Declare some meeting free days, e.g. no meetings on a Friday.
- Have an email free day. Trust me it is possible. No you can’t replace them with instant messages, Slack notifications or Teams comments.
- Where people are working with more time flexibility, such as working evenings and weekends around other family commitments, encourage them not to send emails immediately and schedule them for more typical working hours. Whilst I generally don’t like to perpetuate the myth that work takes place 9-5, right now let’s help each other with overwhelm by not filling up their inboxes.
- It’s always been said that many meetings can be emails. Try and prove it.
- Have a phone call instead of an online meeting! Remember them? You can get up and move!
We have a way to go yet, before there is some sort of normal again, whatever that means. Let’s not burn people out before we get there.