Employees who transitioned to work from home in the past year likely put time and energy into establishing a routine. As an article in TIME on staying productive while working from home put it: “time spent alone is better if it’s structured”.
However, as we approach the one-year mark of remote work, your people may now be feeling the opposite: routine fatigue.
Many employees are finding that it’s their routine that’s bogging them down. This phenomenon is known as routine fatigue, specifically, working from home fatigue—or more generally, pandemic fatigue—and it’s creating disengaged employees. Even the things people do to break up their routine have become routine (e.g. going for a walk, having a snack, calling a friend, etc.).
If you’ve been noticing that your employees seem a bit rundown lately, it likely means you have disengaged employees. Disengagement isn’t uncommon even in the best of times, but as the months of strict COVID-19 restrictions wear on, your employees might be feeling like they’re the main character in Groundhog Day.
That’s why it’s important to reach out to employees and make sure they have opportunities to break out of their daily routines.
It’s extremely important to check in and keep checking in on your team. Whether it’s a quick hello in the morning or an offer of support, it should be ongoing.
Statistics Canada reported a 52% decline in mental health since the start of the pandemic, noting the different ways people have been impacted by COVID-19 such as: “feelings of depression, grief, fear, panic, and anxiety which can be normal responses to situations where day-to-day routines are disrupted and circumstances are uncertain and perceived as potentially risky”.
That’s why it’s essential for HR and leaders to check in with (or check on) employees consistently and proactively. Whether it’s scheduled one-on-ones, or a more casual approach—like an email or Slack message—reaching out to employees to ask how they’re doing should be routine.
Allow choice as much as possible, such as allowing employees to set their own break/lunch times and prioritize tasks as they see fit.
According to Forbes, one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic is the lack of choice. They write: “One of the fundamental elements of good mental health is autonomy, self-expression and a sense of control”. Previously, if employees wanted to work from home for a day or two, that was a choice they made. Now, everyone finds themselves with new routines that they had little say in.
Allowing employees to have as much control over their own schedules as possible is essential for creating a sense of autonomy. Employees should be able to manage their own time, determine which projects take priority, and decide whether to participate in non-essential meetings, for example.
The key to fighting working from home fatigue is breaking routine by making small changes or introducing new routines. Here are some suggestions for your employees (or yourself):
- If you go for walks regularly on a certain route, try switching it up by “going backwards”, that is starting the route in the opposite direction that you usually take. The change in perspective can be refreshing.
- Consider volunteering. Many organizations need help with low-contact tasks such as interacting with adoptable animals or at-home tasks such as responding to emails from supporters. Employers should integrate volunteer opportunities into work perks. A study found that “79% [of employees] reported improvements to their sense of purpose at work as a result of volunteering [...] whilst 68% reported greater motivation at work. 84% also described benefits for their motivation in day-to-day life outside of work”.
- Teach yourself to be ambidextrous. Try doing tasks with your non-dominant hand to challenge yourself and teach yourself a new skill.
- You’ve heard of coffee and stretch breaks, but why not take a dance break? Turn on your favourite tune and dance your heart out for the entire song. It’s a good way to get your heart pumping mid-day.
- Vary where you work from day-to-day. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was essential to set up a dedicated working space to create a sense of normalcy, but now it can add some variety to work from the couch, a comfy chair, or even just to move your desk around if you are able to. Just be mindful of posture and ergonomics.
Although the responsibility of breaking out of a routine rut falls mostly to employees, leaders can help by providing resources, flexible options, and regular check-ins.