How can government agencies and state courts ensure that their employees are avoiding work burnout in the post-pandemic era? There are steps that can be taken
Burnout has become a household term in the post-pandemic era, with two major national assessments from Deloitte and Indeed estimating the impact of burnout hitting between 50% to 75% of surveyed workers.
Burnout is a work-specific form of chronic stress, and its effects pose an increased rate of fatigue, stress, absenteeism, a loss of motivation, and decreased productivity.
Causes of workplace burnout for government employees
Of the six major causes of workplace burnout cited by the Mayo Clinic, four in particular may be more relevant to local government organizations in the post-pandemic era. These four include:
Lack of control — Local governments have experienced record employee attrition since 2020, with retirements and job openings at all-time highs. As a result, both managers and front-line employees are likely experiencing larger work volumes with fewer resources to manage them. This lack of control over deadlines, workload, or even routine functions such as scheduling can contribute to burnout. This is compounded by the increase in global economic vulnerabilities, government and international regulations, and quickly changing sanctions regimes — all of which add to government employees’ stress levels.
Unclear job expectations — Because of the volume of employee attrition, job expectations have been muddled in the post-pandemic era. Employees may be backfilling the responsibilities of a vacant role while struggling to fulfill their own responsibilities. Thin-stretched managers also are experiencing workload increases and may be unaware of the level of stress placed on their subordinates.
Work-life imbalance — The global COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a double-edged sword of rapid technological adoption (as a necessity) and the ability to work remotely more easily than ever before. The downside of that, of course, is that many employees may find that they are using time outside of business hours to catch up on work from their home or may be struggling to disconnect from their workplace responsibilities and workload even when off the clock.
Lack of social support — Health officials advised isolation in 2020 and 2021 to prevent viral spread, which adversely impacted employee mental well-being. Even as the world moves toward a new “normal” in 2022, there are a number of restrictions that limit social interactions and continue to add to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
5 tips to address burnout
Fortunately, there are ways for government agency managers to address their employees’ potential burnout. These practices include:
1. Increase checking-ins — Effective managers find and prioritize the time to engage with their subordinates. For example, Stay interviews are an increasingly common mechanism for gauging employee satisfaction and motivation and for preventing further attrition. Regular management interaction is key in identifying symptoms of emerging burnout, such as a noted shift in engagement, productivity, or motivation.
Framing interactions around employee support — with questions such as, What can I do to support you in your tasks this week? — can help foster a stronger sense of collaboration and trust within teams and manager relationships.
Communication check-ins might be as simple as asking subordinates to rate their stress or job satisfaction levels on a scale of 1 to 5 each week. Managers who are empowered with more information about their team members can more effectively engage with them.
2. Provide autonomy to employees — Effective managers grant flexibility to team members in how and when they complete their assignments and meet deadlines.
The level of trust that employees use to decide how they will spread work assignments across their day (wherever possible) is critical. Organizations might consider flexible scheduling concepts as well, to allow for employees to feel a greater sense of control over both their work and home responsibilities.
Managers that use regular communication check-ins to have employees share feedback on the results of their personal decision-making and project management open a vital pathway of communication that can relieve feelings of burnout.
3. Prioritize focus time — Managers should encourage their employees to block time for uninterrupted work. With the convenience technology brings also comes perpetual distraction. Email or chat notifications, phone calls, or customer walk-ins are all distractions that may interrupt focus work for the average employee.
As a manager, it would be important to:
- only schedule meetings when necessary — don’t hold “meetings that could have been an email”;
- use an agenda and be sure to start and end on time when holding meetings;
- schedule in a way that allows for cross-employee coverage to provide uninterrupted focus time for team members;
- encourage employees to block off focus time on their calendar when possible; and
- urge employees to open their email inboxes with intention several times per day, rather than leaving their email inboxes open all day (with notifications often interrupting their work).
4. Encourage best practices around work-life balance — Good managers need to ensure that employees feel empowered to take their earned time off each year, and should model this by example by following this practice themselves. Employees should be encouraged to not check their email or phone messages while on paid time off, and mangers should model this by example, as well.
Normalize and encourage the use of delayed send features within email platforms to ensure that notifications are not received by team members outside of business hours. This sends a message of respect to colleagues while allowing employees to work at the times that best suit them.
5. Create and support opportunities for meaningful social interactions within teams — Finally, today’s managers need to seek out creative ways to build team camaraderie in the post-pandemic era. Team building within a government agency might be a group volunteer project or an office potluck style function. This could also include connecting with professional organizations, both in person and virtually.
Whatever activity is chosen, gatherings that allow for government employees to express their creativity, their passions outside of work, or to connect with their colleagues on topics outside of their job can build stronger networks of trust and strengthen important social connections that can reduce burnout while increasing employee retention and job satisfaction.