WFH isn’t smooth sailing

Prakriti Poddar | Updated on April 20, 2021

Work from home shouldn’t be ‘all work and no home’

As the pandemic pushed people inside their homes and offices to switch to the flexible option of remote working, employee burnout has become a common occurrence. Almost 41 per cent of the Indian workforce is dealing with increased levels of stress because of the blurred lines between work and life. The need to stay “responsive” with regards to communication with bosses, colleagues, and others is contributing to the added stress while working from home.

As there are no specific boundaries to a remote employee’s working day, there is an assumption that they are available all the time. The unavailability of clear boundaries coupled with the worry of losing out on jobs is pushing the workforce towards the “responsive error” — attending to calls, texts, and emails well past the working hours. It has almost emerged as a virus that can have a significant impact on the physical and mental well-being of employees.

Over the last 10 months, the pandemic has created an era of remote work. It has led to the evolution of a new virtual workplace allowing businesses to provide timely and relevant solutions to their users and customers. However, the work from home routine has also led employees to attend more meetings, take more calls and adjust to the new normal of working well beyond the work hours.

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, which surveyed over 6,000 information and first-line workers across eight countries, India has the 2nd highest percentage of workers (29 per cent) facing increased burnout. The Work Trend Index report looks at how the pandemic has impacted well being at work globally.

With employees at home, days are usually filled with unscheduled calls and meetings as it is assumed that they would be available for work at all times. Bosses believe that work could be delivered within tight deadlines as everything is done digitally. The situation has been further worsened by the worries over the economic uncertainty and feeling the need to put in extra effort to keep the job.

The Microsoft report also points out that 23 per cent of workers in India say that too many meetings and not enough focus time are also contributing to the stress while working from home.

Making a difference

Considering the imbalance in work and life while working remotely, there is a dire need for organisation leaders to focus on people management skills. Employers need to sensitise and communicate about respecting employees’ boundaries, making it clear that workers aren’t required to respond to emails or texts immediately.

To help employees strike a positive work-life balance, some employers are making it clear that workers need not respond to any work-related messages or emails post-work hours; if they want to do it on their own accord, that’s their purview.

Employers can also allow their employees to knock off an hour earlier at least once a month. This can be especially helpful during the weekends as it would allow employees to spend quality time with their friends and family.

Also, engaging employees in virtual group exercise sessions like Zumba, yoga, meditation, etc. can encourage employees to exit the “work mode” by turning their attention towards an activity.

When it comes to promoting work-life balance, the management plays a critical role in setting the boundaries. Communicating effectively with the staff about the expectations or accountability and not blurring the lines between work and life can cultivate a respectful relationship where workers will get the freedom to do their best work.

Irrespective of how employers set the boundaries, employees shouldn’t also feel shy about preserving their personal time. They should take the initiative to communicate openly with their managers that unless it’s an absolute emergency, they are not going to respond to calls, texts, or emails after their working hours.

Employers must be open to empathise and understand the changing demands and needs of employees in these volatile times. There is an urgent need to build a healthy set of ground rules catering to the new needs of the WFH Regime.

The writer is Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation

Published on April 20, 2021

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