Work Flexibility Burnout a Catch-22 for Employers

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While what employees want matters, it can also be confusing.

Work flexibility offers an excellent example of this confusion. It remains a top priority for employee experience. But the same arrangement is also causing burnout, leading to mass resignations and mental health issues.

So should companies embrace or avoid work flexibility? Unfortunately, there is no straight answer.

Just a year ago, WFH turned from a perk into a workforce survival arrangement. As the social restrictions eased, this arrangement became a strategic tool for employee engagement and talent retention.

A Gartner study suggested that 55% of employees saw work flexibility as a determining factor to stay with an organization. Yet, companies are also seeing a pandemic of burnouts and resignations as a result of it.

The perfect storm for burnout

A recent study by Adobe, “The Future of Time,” surveyed 5,500 people across seven global regions. It showed that the average workweek has crept up to 45 hours since the pandemic. Almost half (49%) of enterprise workers also said they work longer hours than they would like.

Working hours have also spread across weekends and evenings. Nearly half of enterprise workers felt pressured to remain reachable around the clock.

“I feel like my work hour never ends, but customers really appreciate quick responses, even on weekends,” said one of the survey respondents.

Burnout also seems to hit hard among women. “As a mum, I do hundreds of small blocks of work instead of protected regular office hours. This goes into evenings and weekends, too,” said one of the survey respondents.

The domino effect

Long hours, burnouts, and virtual overload create a domino effect, causing the so-called great resignation and elevating mental stress. And Asia is experiencing the brunt of it.

The Adobe survey indicated that one-third of the workforce planned to switch jobs in the next year. Another study, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health in the Workplace,” showed that the percentage of employees feeling stressed from the pandemic is exceptionally high in Singapore (71%), followed by U.K. (62%) and Malaysia (61%).

For Rachna Sampayo, the vice president of human resources at Oracle Asia Pacific & Japan, the issues are becoming personal.

“As a mother, a leader, and HR practitioner, I’m also facing the challenge of finding the right balance between work and personal life,” she said. But the stress is not limited to the individual employees, as the physical workplace has moved into the employees' homes, extending the impact to the family.

“We are aware of the stress and mental wellbeing for both our employees and their families,” she added. 

Not the Great Resignation

Burnout is linked to the rising trend in mass resignation that we see across the world. However, Oracle’s Sampayo views it differently.

“In my 20-30 years career in HR, there have always been cycles of spikes and dips in the employment market,” she said. “Instead of calling it the Great Resignation, it’s more like a Great Awakening.”

She explained that the ongoing unpredictability saw many reflect on their priorities in life.

“When people are not commuting or running around for appointments, it gives them a chance to reflect about life; what makes them happy or unhappy. It’s more likely a sign of great awakening.”

Sampayo added that as HR leaders, their roles are to be aware of the changing employee demands, adjust to them quickly and tweak the policies along the way.

For decades, there have been debates about different ways to achieve work-life balance and promoting work flexibility. She said the pandemic has simply reinforced this issue and proved why we needed it all along.

“Work from home has provided flexibility, but it has also brought work physically into your home. This has blurred the lines between work and personal life completely,” Sampayo added.  “It is no longer about work-life balance, but work-life integration.”

The awakening for HR leaders and professionals from the pandemic is to help talents understand how to “integrate it so well that it would give us personal space as well,” she said.

From work-life balance to integration

To support better integration, Sampayo said Oracle developed different programs for both the business leaders and employees.

One way to support overseas employees being closer to home is to provide a relocation option. With remote working becoming a reality, Sampayo said Oracle has been supporting employees with relocations where possible based on individual needs, i.e., where employees want to move closer to their families.

Business leaders are also encouraged to develop disciplines, like no-Zoom days or no email after 8 pm, to promote relaxation within the team.

“The leaders are important to uphold these practices. There are times I had to discipline myself to shut my laptop and take a break from work,” she said.

Sampayo noted that as the world continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, we all are presented with new challenges, including prolonged isolation, and changes to the way we work and live. "To support the well-being of our employees, Oracle has partnered with an external organization to roll out a mental wellness program to promote a psychologically safe workplace and build a positive work environment," she added. 

Sampayo also highlighted that Oracle is exploring different technologies to bring better tools for employees and make their work more efficient.

“It is a balancing act on the use of technologies,” she said.  While technologies may help to automate certain tasks, leaders must not escape the role to foster communications.

“Conversation is a must,” she said. “Leaders should proactively connect with their team members, either via face-to-face or online. Human connection is something that business leaders must advocate.”

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/SIphotography