Break-less hours of remote work, never-ending screen time and exhaustion are leading to mental fatigue and burnout in most professionals, pointing to the urgent need to embed well-being in the workplace culture
In September last year, Thomson Reuters announced that it will be giving its employees a Mental Health Day Off on October 9 as a permanent company holiday every year. “If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s the value of having the mind-space to deal with the unexpected,” Steve Hasker, president and CEO of Thomson Reuters, said in a global message to employees.
The move is a brilliant reminder to embed well-being in the workplace culture at a time when professionals are burdened under break-less hours of remote work, never-ending screen time and exhaustion, which are all leading to mental fatigue. Burnout is characterised by three key factors: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy, as per WHO. “Burnout has been reported to be the most common in organisations,” says Achal Bhagat, senior consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Apollo Hospitals, and chairperson, Saarthak, a mental health organisation in Delhi. “Burnout includes disillusionment with the response to stressful situations. Indecision, withdrawal, mental arguments, anger outbursts and lack of sense of accomplishment besides moral injury… these are a few well-recognised phenomena where the person may feel guilty for having to work against their personal code of conduct. Some of these features show signs of depression, low mood, helplessness and hopelessness. In this situation, organisations need to become points of delivery for mental health services. But solutions are sometimes ‘tokenistic’ and restricted to some events around mental health,” he adds.
Bhagat recommends a comprehensive approach to mental health like programmes to mitigate stigma around mental health or awareness initiatives to support personal growth, peer support to create a fair and safe workplace, etc.
As per Microsoft’s October 2020 Work Trend Index report, close to one-third of workers in India cited increased rates of burnout in the crucial months of the lockdown. Surveying over 6,000 information and first-line workers across eight countries, including Australia, Japan, India and Singapore, the study found that India had the second-highest percentage (29%) of workers facing increased burnout in Asia. “The year 2020 led to the evolution of a new workplace-from a physical space to one residing in a virtual world. As businesses adapt to a new way of working, it is important to examine the multifaceted impact that the new working conditions are having on employees. This helps provide relevant solutions to all users,” says Samik Roy, country head, modern work, Microsoft India.
The need for work-life harmony and physical and mental health have made many organisations adopt activities and experiences to curb burnout in employees. “We have started the practice of offering a no meeting day on the last Friday of the month to all our employees,” says Bengaluru-based Shilpa Vaid, HR head at Prione Business Services group, a joint venture between Catamaran and Amazon to empower SMBs. “Employees are advised to schedule no meetings between 1 and 2 pm everyday and to not take any meetings post 7 pm and before 9 am on any day.We have started Employee Assistance Program to focus on the mental health of our employees and continue to drive awareness around significant issues related to anxiety, stress, ” she adds.
Similarly, fintech firm Razorpay offers wellness leaves, meeting-free days and mandates that employees schedule all meetings between 10 am and 7 pm during weekdays. Unacademy, an online education platform, has launched UCARE, a health and safety initiative to provide Covid-19-related relief and support to all its employees and their dependents.
Cisco has declared May 22 and June 19 as ‘A Day for Me’, wherein all employees globally can unplug, rest and recharge, and take some time for themselves and their loved ones. Another initiative #LifeOnWebex showcases how creatively employees are using Cisco Webex, with virtual pet or costume parties, posting pictures of WFH experience, etc. “We foster open dialogue between leaders and teams, weekly global check-ins with the executive leadership team, virtual workshops on mental and physical health, and fun sessions on Webex,” says Anupam Trehan, director, people and communities, Cisco India & SAARC. Multinational retailer Marks & Spencer, too, has an enhanced suite of benefits under its ‘My choices’ initiative, enabling employees to avail video medicine facility, weekly virtual engagement initiatives and more.
At a time when most businesses are limping with declining margins, there is an overall level of dissatisfaction and demotivation among employees, and that needs to be paid attention to. Sanjay Kumar, MD and CEO of corporate catering company Elior India, says, “We try to seek less information from employees… not over-analyse or overstress… We have reduced the number of reports, data points for each function to submit and focus on the bigger issues in terms of helping people make decisions by empowering them during remote working…” he says.
Then there is Thriving Mind, Salesforce’s latest global benefit programme to help employees and their families strengthen their psychological and emotional health. It has been developed by Thrive Global in partnership with Stanford Medical. Additionally, Salesforce India has also extended WFH. “We have extended WFH for all employees until July 31, 2021, and given the option to comfortably do so even if office reopens, besides an additional $250 towards office equipment,” says Deepa Narayan, senior director, employee success, Salesforce India.
This is a significant move, as an overwhelming majority of employees who started working from home immediately after Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns would like to continue WFH, an ASSOCHAM-Primus Partners September 2020 survey pointed out. “The new normal is unfolding across different aspects of doing business. Technology has enabled WFH as a feasible proposition. While it is early days to assess how exactly things would pan out, remote working has its own opportunities and challenges. We need to adjust fast to this paradigm,” says Deepak Sood, secretary general, ASSOCHAM.
Indians aren’t the only people, however, to feel the pressure. Europeans have been under the pump too. “Based on aggregated survey data from countries across the European region, fatigue is measured in different ways, and levels vary per country… it is now estimated to have reached over 60% in some cases,” says Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
How to avoid fatigue
A dialogue with employees helps, encouraging them to comfortably raise issues
An employee, too, must improve communication with the reporting manager
Increased team spirit and participation can provide emotional support
Plan your day
Read, meditate or exercise
Lunch breaks can include reading a book, going on a walk, or even staring into space
Wrap up work before dinner and do not log back in later
Beating Covid stress
Focus on your work, thoughts, actions or try a relaxation technique such as meditation
Indulge in some self-care routine. Make time for an activity, dance or do yoga
In such difficult times, loneliness is likely to happen.
Do not judge yourself