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Nicol Myburgh

Burned out and isolated. Should the company care?

Employees have been hard at work since the lockdown started but the isolation and long hours are starting to take their toll.

At first, the lockdown added some notable benefits to the employee’s life. They didn’t have to sit in traffic for hours. They could wake up a little later and work a little longer. They could wear their pyjamas at the desk and they discovered that they were far more productive in this new world of work. But soon, these benefits became problems. People started to work longer hours, they forgot how to turn off, and they didn’t have clear lines between work and play. The result, according to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, is the collapse of realistic expectations and employee morale.

“We’ve coined the term ‘squirrel’ at CRS because quite a few of our people worked so hard and got so burned out that they were distracted by everything,” he explains. “This level of burnout doesn’t happen overnight. People have been working all hours, on weekends and have become so turned on to work through instant messages and emails that they don’t know when to turn off.”

The story of the email sent at 9pm with a follow-up email at 9:30pm asking why there’s been no reply to the first email likely sounds very familiar to many people. Employers, delighted at having their talent so accessible and available, have forgotten the lines – some have rubbed them out altogether. This has seen productivity surge, but now it’s time to pay the dues for all that work.

Taking time off is important for minds to refresh

“The first and most important step right now is for every employee and organisation to set realistic expectations,” says Myburgh. “This not only adheres to the hours agreed to in working contracts and labour law regulations, but minimises stress and improves efficiencies. It also goes a long way towards cutting out the keyboard rage that’s affecting a lot of people right now. It’s very easy to send angry emails from behind a screen.”

This is also why, in spite of the pandemic and the restrictions of lockdown, people need to go on leave. Taking time off is important for minds to refresh and employees to return to work with a renewed sense of purpose. A holiday will improve tempers and productivity, and will help reduce the amount of stress that’s being felt by the majority of people right now. From pandemic to workplace, stress is endemic which makes a holiday essential.

Burnout is difficult to recover from and it can have long-lasting psychological and emotional effects, so the best course of action is to avoid it completely,” concludes Myburgh. “It’s advisable for companies to insist their people go on leave and to specify dates for this leave. This will not only minimise the risk of everyone disappearing over the Christmas period, but will improve overall work behaviour and reduce the risk of burnout.”

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