Experts lay out the role internal comms should play in refreshing and reinvigorating the workforce

New data says 80% of employees have no motivation right now. Here’s how to inspire, encourage and uplift wrung-out colleagues.

How communicators can prevent burnout

Living through a pandemic is a frightening, exhausting experience.

Working through a pandemic, while trying to juggle homefront obligations and maintain some semblance of a personal life, is even harder. No wonder 80% of employees say that have little to no motivation at work right now.

That stunning figure, which comes from a recent poll conducted by Blind, is indicative of the daily struggle today’s employees encounter. It also speaks to the massive challenge facing communicators tasked with engaging and uplifting workers amid the worst public health crisis in a century.

Finding new ways to connect

Blind’s survey opened up a cathartic outpouring of emotion from respondents, many of whom shared candid thoughts on how the pandemic has affected their lives and job performance. As an employee for videoconference platform Zoom wrote:

“I’m just so burnt out from this year. Still behind on work, every day, but cannot work overtime anymore or I will be sick. The expectations have been off the charts since March, and I just can’t care anymore; I’m doing C-quality work instead of A-quality. Just enough to get by.”

Chances are, many of your employees are experiencing similar malaise. Just 16% of Blind’s respondents said they “love their job” right now. Gallup data backs reports of widespread burnout, quipping that, “Now, working entirely from home during the pandemic might feel more like being “trapped at home” instead of a perk.”

So, how can communicators help reignite that spark of motivation during such difficult, unpredictable times? J.D. Norton, who leads internal communications at Thumbtack, says companies must be willing to explore new ways to help employees connect.

J.D. Norton, head of internal comms at Thumbtack

“Some of the biggest things missing in this new world of fully-remote work are all the chance meetings, watercooler chats and just general non-work-related interactions with one another that happen on a regular basis throughout any given workday,” he says.

Norton adds: “Work is now 100% work with far fewer off-the-cuff conversations about life in general. Every meeting is planned and has a purpose, so employees rarely have the chance to talk about anything other than work and really get to know one another.”

Norton says Thumbtack has rolled out an initiative called “TTharmony,” which he describes as “a program that matches employees up to meet, get to know one another and talk about anything other than work.” Norton says the program’s been a hit with employees: “So much so that the team facilitating it can barely keep up, so we are looking to roll out a new fully-automated program soon via the Donut plug-in on Zoom.”

Thumbtack has also started facilitating “global concerts where anyone can sign up to participate,” Norton says, where “employees from across the company volunteer to sing, play music, read poetry, do magic or anything to entertain everyone.” Thumbtack streams the “concerts” on global Zoom calls, typically after all-company meetings toward the end of a week (as a nice segue into the weekend). Norton notes:

Everyone absolutely loves these, and they become very participatory via chat and through emojis on Zoom, so everyone can get involved if they wish. Watching the Zoom chat blow up with words of encouragement and love is truly inspiring. They really pump everyone up and employees have told us outright how inspiring it has been to get everyone together to watch other extremely talented employees do their thing.

Giving employees time to shine isn’t just about fun and games, however. Providing a safe, fun space for performance art can spark genuine connection—and possibly even healing. Norton says: “We did one of these as a concert for hope in response to all the civil unrest earlier this year, and it was a mix of happiness and tears of hopeful joy.”

Of course, not every event will be an instant hit. Your employees might be shy, or perhaps more video “connectivity” is the last thing they want. Whichever engagement tactics you settle on during the pandemic, focus on giving employees freedom to switch off from work. “My biggest piece of advice on this topic is to give employees space and encourage them to connect with one another about anything other than work,” Norton says. “Work will burn you out if that is all you are doing all day every day, especially with everything else going on in the world right now.”

Optimizing work experience  

Ben Wigert, Gallup’s director of research and strategy, offers a reminder that burnout is about more than workload.

Ben Wigert of Gallup (Image via Gallup)

“It’s not just the number of hours you work; it’s how you’re managed and how you experience work during those hours,” he says.

He offers two tips for burned-out employees—or for those who are running on fumes:

  • Take time to review your most recent experiences and stressors. “Ask yourself why those things are weighing on you and who can help,” he says. “Talk to someone about them, and come up with a plan that helps you spend more time on the activities that energize you and less time doing what drains you.”

For communicators, that might mean delegating—or maybe just halting certain ancillary tasks and seeing if anyone notices. As Ragan Consulting co-founder Jim Ylisela said at a recent Ragan Roundtable event: “This is a great time to scrap all those crap jobs.”

  • Now is the perfect time to take a moment over the holidays to recharge and reprioritize. “Do something you love; do something you’re never tried before,” Wigert recommends. “Then come-up for a plan for reducing your chronic causes of burnout and start fresh in 2021.”

Managers have a profound effect on your organizational work experience. They have the power to ratchet up stress—or reduce it—so consistently equipping and educating this crucial group should be top-of-mind for communicators. As Wigert suggests: “When managers focus on employee well-being, working from home can create new opportunities for increased autonomy, frequent and meaningful conversations, regular recognition, and more intentional employee development.”

Alternatively, managers who are focused strictly on productivity or hitting targets will quickly extinguish any passion workers might have for their jobs. Wigert says remote employees must be supported and empowered with “individualization, flexibility and time throughout the day to deal with stress and disruptions and tend to personal well-being.” That sort of empathy and flexibility is especially crucial for parents, many of whom are reeling from school closures and scrambling to find adequate (and affordable) childcare.

Establishing clear, healthy boundaries and realistic expectations are also essential right now. As Wigert recommends:

“Make sure your managers are funneling important messages from leadership and speaking up about what they expect from employees during this time, and ensure those expectations take into account the added stress and worry that most of us are experiencing.”

He adds that during this stressful season, we must all do better at focusing on people and erring on the side of compassion. So, celebrate accomplishments, big or small. Consistently check in to see how people are faring, and offer resources, such as mental health screenings or access to webinars and well-being apps. Above all, treat people with kindness. Sometimes all it takes is an encouraging word to reignite a spark of inspiration.

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