How to Insulate Your Team Against Burnout When Returning to Office

By
AJ Beltis
·
February 22, 2022
burnout, employee burnout, returning to work, returning to the office

Burnout. 

It’s been affecting workers for generations—but the pandemic has upped the ante.

Historically, workplace burnout has been caused by role-specific grievances like perceived control and role clarity. Broader factors such as workplace culture, work-life balance, and a compulsion toward overworking can also cause burnout. 

But as employees prepare to return (or in many cases, have already returned) to the office, the stressors that come with commuting, sharing a communal workspace, and not working from the comfort of home could cause a record uptick in workplace burnout. 

Still, the benefits of at least a partial return to the office are hard to ignore—with in-person socializing and collaboration at the top of employees’ lists for reasons to come together. 

This means organizations that are bringing their teams back to the office need to highlight these positives—while mitigating the negatives—to save their employees from return-to-office burnout. 

4 ways to reduce burnout when returning to the office

1. Be flexible

Let’s face it—we’ve spent nearly two years working remotely, either occasionally or all the time.

As we return to the office, there are going to be some adjustments when getting back into the swing of things, even if your team is only in the office part-time.

Things have changed for workers. Some companies have pledged to never force their employees back in the office ever again, creating a hybrid workplace where employees work remotely, at-home, or both. For those returning to the office after such a gap in time, they may be entering an office that feels unfamiliar, with their best friends at work having gone fully remote or resigned during the pandemic

Meanwhile, other employees might be fearing the return-to-office due to social anxiety and newfound crowd-related fears. For them, spending five days a week in the office after two years at home is like going from zero to a hundred overnight. 

Plus, going to the office is a re-adjustment for some workers. Many have spent the last two years getting used to the time and money saved by not commuting, resulting in more sleep and a collective $750 million saved by Americans each day.

The best approach here? Be flexible and patient as your workforce (and the world at large) establishes a sustainable path forward. 

If you are ultimately planning on a full return to the office, leaning into a hybrid model (at least for the first few weeks or months) will allow employees to gradually come back to work. 

For example, as you lean into hybrid, you might allow employees to work up to four days remotely, then three days after a month or two. As you lean into flexibility, it’s worthwhile to allow employees to choose which days they come in and work remotely to best fit their schedules. 

Over time, your team will have the chance to renormalize and feel more comfortable heading back into the office on occasion—while also enjoying the benefits of remote working. 

And, if you’re seeing the perks of hybrid work as you roll out this model, it might be worth adopting it permanently like countless companies have already.

2. Schedule in-office days

If you’re embracing the hybrid model, things can quickly get disconnected within teams. Without alignment, some employees will end up in the office on certain days, while those they might benefit from collaborating with show up on other days. 

With that in mind, consider setting in-office days for certain teams, or even (depending on the size and everyone’s comfort level) your entire company. This way, individuals can still get their remote time in if they choose, but still have specific days to interact with their close team members. 

Remember, employees often cite collaboration as a main perk of in-office work they’re most looking forward to. They can use these days for meetings and group activities and reserve their “heads-down” work for other days. However, if there’s no one there to collaborate with, there’s not as much for these employees to get excited about—which can quickly cause burnout and discontent with their situation. 

To keep teams aligned, you can use desk booking or room scheduling software so teams can orchestrate which days they come in and in which parts of the office they’ll work from, or book meeting rooms to brainstorm and collaborate as a group. 

3. Survey your employees

Is returning to the office more important than keeping your top employees?

If you haven’t asked yourself that question, you can’t put it off much longer—39% of workers would rather quit their current jobs than return to the office full time, with nearly half of those employees being millennials or Gen Z. 

Knowing the impact that reopening the office can have on your employee turnover rate can inform your company’s decisions on when and how to proceed with reopening. That’s why you should survey your employees for their thoughts on returning and what they need to feel positive and energized.

Some questions you might want to ask employees are:

  • What office COVID safety protocols would make you feel comfortable returning?   
  • Given the needs of your role, how many days a week would you want to access the office?
  • What are your biggest hesitations in returning to the office?
  • What are you most looking forward to about being back in person?
  • What can our company do to make you more excited and comfortable when returning to the office? 

By gathering these useful insights, you can build a return plan that balances your employees’ work preferences alongside your organization’s need to get workers back together in person.  

4. Encourage boundaries

For some, going back to the office is the long-awaited return to normalcy. For others, it means giving up free time and working in the privacy of their own home. 

The adjustment for everyone will vary in duration and severity, so it’s important to allow employees to set boundaries during their return. This could include designating specific areas of your office as “quiet zones,” where employees who don’t want to listen to music over a speaker system or overhear a sales rep’s enthusiastic pitch to a prospect can work without distraction. 

Outside of the office setup, managers should encourage employees to maintain their work-life balance during this time. Consider allowing your employees to leave a few minutes before closing time on office days to catch the early train, set meeting-free blocks on their calendars, and use their time off when needed. Acknowledging the importance of boundaries and treating your team with kindness will remind everyone that they’re valued and give them the breathing room they need to keep productivity high and burnout low. 

Back to work

With companies slowly returning to the office (even in a part-time, hybrid capacity), it’s imperative to listen to your team, and build a return to work strategy that works for everyone. 

Otherwise, the risk of burnout increases severely—leaving you with an unmotivated, disconnected workforce (and a high risk of turnover). But with thoughtful technology, employee feedback, and employer empathy, you can ensure your return to the office is effective in the long run.