by Anthony Gifford
Those ‘Monday Blues’ seem to be a not so fond distant memory in this new era of working. 5am alarms are replaced with a sensible 7:30am, the painful line in Starbucks™for that caffeine fix is instead a leisurely stroll to the kitchen (and the Nespresso™machine has never felt so loved), those lunch time workouts are actually happening, you feel recharged and energized and ride the wave endorphins well until 5pm. Working culture has improved so dramatically for many of us, that the thought of heading back to the office brings an internal groan of dismay… Even without the fear of a threatening novel virus wreaking havoc across the globe.
With a shocking 12.8 million working days lost due to anxiety, stress and depression (all precursors of corporate burnout) the working world was at breaking point! The one thing this global pandemic created was time for many individuals to take back the 3 hours of commuting, take the extra few hours in bed to sleep and maybe even something as simple as getting to do the school run and seeing their child off for their first day back at school. We have seen a cultural shift for the positive and for many, navigating this new normal could be the best thing that happened to them. However, as we venture into unchartered waters, it is impossible to 100% guarantee the sweeping statements regarding the health and benefits that this new ‘working from home culture’ has brought.
Putting work and productivity aside let us focus on ways that a purely homebased job setting can negatively impact your health in the long run.
The fitbit fanatics amongst us will know the sweet satisfaction of achieving that coveted 10,000 daily step goal. I have seen colleagues jog up and down stairs a couple of times en-route to a meeting just to complete that final activity circle. The sheer ease of being out and about means that for some of us, activity that is so hard to do in sedentary roles becomes significantly more feasible. The more fitness focused amongst are now shouting at this article ‘but now I have more time for my workouts!’, ‘now I actually have time to utilise my £80p/m gym membership’ and this is obviously true… to an extent. Many of us humans have the same basic hardwiring in our brains that means we commit to things a lot more easily if there is a time, place, and a date. Working from home allows the endless flexibility of ‘I can skip the workout today and do a few more emails’ and it is certainly a lot harder to go to the gym if it is not already on your way to the office anyway.
Where it is easy to maybe skip your ‘lunch time living room ab blasts’, booking yourself into that morning gym class is sure fire way to engage in a community level of fitness and reap the benefits of a committed fitness regime.
Sleep is also a huge factor in the fight against burnout. With most adults needing on average 7/8 hours of sleep per night, the corporate setting was not conducive for that at all. Not to mention the lesser known impacts of staring at blue light screens for hours on end or not getting any natural daylight. Workers reporting a healthier sleep routine has increased tenfold. However, there is a catch! Sleep quality is vastly more important than sleep quality. Unless you have a separation of work and sleep space, your body is slowly being conditioned to merging the two. The temptation to take the morning meetings off camera in your pajamas could slowly be affecting your sleep overall. Decreased attention and interest were major findings because of partial sleep deprivation. Suddenly, this new working from home environment could potentially diminish your initial self-perceived boost in productivity in the long run.
A new era of burnout issues amongst workers
As a self-proclaimed extrovert, human connection is at the forefront of my working day. The energy of a team in a co-working space is unlike no other and some face to face meetings cannot be recreated over zoom. Whatever you score on the Myers-Briggs test, as pack animals, human beings require (albeit various) levels of human interaction. Zoom and Teams have been a great substitute to counter the lack of face to face capabilities during these times, but the resilience that many of us have built up in coping in these socially deprived times is wearing thin. With the children back to school now, even those with children will feel the social gap created in the now quiet households.
You may have not used the office to make friends and we are all too busy for idle chit chat but in terms of employee empowerment and development, a study of over 300 companies indicated that teamwork was the main conduit a positive increase in enhancing both of them. Team meetings and training is of course possible remotely, but there is a lot to be said about full engagement and impact when the environment is not already conducive for that format of enrichment.
It is not all doom and gloom however and the answer is not to certainly all rush back to the office and resume the old normal. Riding these waves of change is imperative however to stop a ‘burnout 2.0’ occurring. Something that is as novel as the virus that has caused all of this, as never before have we seen such a mass migration of workforce to a remote setting. It is so easy to be blind to some predictable downward curves in our work-life blend and health in general. It is well known that forming good habits is much easier than breaking old ones. Skipping the lunch time workouts can be easily nipped in the bud, finding an alternative work space could prevent the temptation of taking that zoom catch up in bed just because you can if you wanted and getting the team together, even just monthly could enhance your efficacy for a healthy and happy work force.
Old habits also have a way of resurfacing. Many companies (quite rightly so) prohibited the taking home of emails. Even if you do have them linked to your phone, a common narrative was to have the strength to not check them right before laying your head down to sleep at night or first thing as you wake up. All of the small things that contributed to standard burnout are right there waiting to plague us all, unless we are all mindful and aware.
I think the key focus is always balance and finding that is a lot easier said than done. I for one am certainly against the mass flocking of workers back to their corporate offices. Instead a gentler, more appropriate choice could be the flexibility to work away from home 1 or 2 days per week. Whether you have a study or huddled around a dining room table with your house mates, the ability to add a new-normal work day to the weekly schedule could prevent the burnout that is waiting to plague our working from home warriors.
The above suggestion could take many shapes and forms, but I encourage everyone to not instantly disregard the idea of not working from home for ever and ever. Co-working spaces, coffee shops or even the bench in your local park are great substitutes for the office. And if you are back in the office, then learning from our past few months in lockdown should hopefully provide an insight to how flexible working could benefit us all. Take that lunch hour you told yourself you would take 10 emails ago, meet that colleague for that coffee you’ve always said you would do and for the love of all things holy, stop checking your emails the second you open your eyes in the morning.
Burnout is real and it is changing because we as humans are always changing and adapting to our environments. There is too much of a good thing and striking that balance is the key to a happy employee and a happy life!