A silent epidemic of burnout is brewing as more than a hundred days have passed since work-from home employees have felt bold enough to apply for a break. Now, a bleak sense of melancholy—once reserved for Mondays—pervades their daily existence. Given that complaining has been deemed perverse by a culture that expects you to be grateful for even having a job, the relentless juggling of work and household chores has led many exhausted workers to seek out doctors with symptoms such as backaches and junk food binges. The phenomenon of employees feeling unwilling to apply for leave during the global crisis has led the Human Resources departments at certain firms to become, well, more human. While some are building “leave banks”, others are encouraging employees to refuse work during lunch hour.
Psychiatrists have been approached by workers reporting of stress from working at home, depression over not getting holidays or feeling anxious about their job situation in months to come, psychologists have not only noted common issues such as feeling tired all the time, brain fog, mental fatigue and lack of motivation, but also physiological manifestations of burnout such as neck pain and spondylitis. “Some women have even found their menstrual cycles going haywire” reports a leading gynaecologist.
Typically, what keeps employees from applying for leave during a crisis is the fear of not being understood.
‘Leave banks’ & virtual breaks among new WFH perks offered by Corporates.
A senior knowledge advisor for Human Resources Management clarified: While it is now well established that the productivity levels of employees rose in the lockdown period, work served as a coping mechanism for many, Employers suddenly discovered the beneﬁts of working from home, since employees worked much harder. But, the reason they worked harder was fear, grief, and sudden loss of freedom.”
Some organisations have exploited this situation by making employees feel they had no reason to go on leave. One doesn’t have to travel and it was assumed they were discharging their household duties anyway. So unless you fell sick — which has become a Covid stigma — one had no plausible reason to apply for leave.
To help employees relax, some ﬁrms are reconﬁguring leave policies. “We have introduced a ‘shared leave bank’, giving professionals the option of donating their leave. If anyone has exhausted their leave and is facing a medical emergency, they can use the leave from this leave bank,” says a senior officer of a leading MNC
At some big corporate offices, employees can take “small breaks closer to home for breaking the monotony”.
“We are running multiple contactless programs every week such as virtual cooking sessions with our hotel chef, wellness meditation classes, specially curated book readings and language tutorials,” says the chief human resources oﬃcer of leading corporate house.
While at some corporates, managers have been asked to integrate ‘availing of leave’ as part of the workplan discussion with employees.
“We do not expect people to work beyond the normal working hours and employees are empowered to refuse work during oﬀ-oﬃce hours and ‘lunch-breaks’,” says a vice president (HR)
A leadership and start-up advisor feels: How companies treat employees in this time will decide how things will shape when Covid-19 is over, Employees who are stressed now because work is being heaped upon them 24×7 will be the ﬁrst to leave when better opportunities come up later, companies need to plan a structured break from work for the entire workforce.
And while vacations may seem like a non-existent option with festivals being subdued and travel being fraught with concerns, HR professionals sense an alternate model of vacations emerging. We will see full-time employees work like gig workers, anywhere, anytime, and plan their vacations accordingly,
In the meantime though, there are more immediate ways to address burnout.
Besides taking vitamin supplements, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and stepping out onto the balcony to stretch and inhale fresh air, Doctors also prescribe another old-fashioned medicine. “After work, make sure to watch something that makes you laugh.”