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A Lexicon for Employers

Are you feeling a bit run down these days? Many people have reported feeling burnout as a result of the pandemic; they describe being tired of wearing masks, tired of sickness, tired of isolation, tired of virtual meetings and tired of dramatically reduced opportunities to safely gather socially.

In early 2020, “Zoom fatigue” was coined and was a major topic of discussion. Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson found that "Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense. ... Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. ... Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility" and "The cognitive load is much higher in video chats." These were the hallmarks of virtual meetings.

However today, we've shifted from "Zoom fatigue" to “post-pandemic burnout” as a topic of discussion. It’s a term to describe what people feel as a result of continued isolation, mask-wearing and vaccination concerns at a time when they thought things would be “back to normal” as we know it. Post-pandemic burnout is a bit different than what we’ve seen in the news of the fatigue and burnout experienced by our frontline workers, particularly those in the healthcare fields, and different than worker burnout.

An online survey conducted in December 2020 by Spring Health found that 76% of U.S. employees surveyed were experiencing worker burnout.

Last year we added another new term to our mental lexicon, which was likely a fallout response of worker burnout: the Great Resignation. During that time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workplace resignations hit a record high in April 2021, with almost 4 million employees quitting their jobs. During the second half of 2021, more than 20 million people resigned from their jobs.

The “Great Resignation” has been described as a phenomenon that basically describes the record numbers of people quitting their jobs starting around the time many thought to be the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Well, the pandemic is still here in some form. This phenomenon was predicted by Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek (paywall).

At the time, some people thought that the resignations were caused by the stimulus checks (paywall) being issued, giving people a sense of freedom to leave or stay with their employers. As people began to return back to the workforce in January, it seemed more like a great sabbatical from work. Still, the trend of quitting continues.

So what’s really going on?

Here’s what we know for sure:

• Resignation rates are the highest among mid-career employees.

• Resignation rates are the highest in the technology and healthcare fields.

• Many employees are experiencing high levels of stress and trauma based in uncertainty and worries of sickness and death.

The pandemic caused many of us to look at our lives and ask a few simple questions:

1. Is this where I want to be and what I want to do for the rest of my life?

2. Is my company loyal to me?

3. Do I have job security?

4. What other options do I have or could I create to sustain myself?

Many of those who answered “no” to any of the first three questions left their jobs. The response to the fourth question is often what determined whether those workers quit their jobs to start a business, made a career change or found more flexible working hours that fit their needs.

Many workers have also returned to their jobs, giving us another term to add to popular career jargon — “boomerang employee.” A boomerang employee is one who quits their job on good terms and returns sometime later.

So as an employer, what can you do to retain your staff, recruit new staff and help employees through this continued time of uncertainty?

• Evaluate your pay structure and make adjustments to be more competitive.

• Foster an environment of positivity, which means looking for the good and recognizing achievements no matter how small they might seem.

• Maintain open communication between management and staff — when things are too quiet, people often make up what they think is going on in the company.

• Make the working situation as flexible as possible. Changing hours or making certain jobs remote can help workers adjust.

• Promote healthy lifestyles, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Encourage a walking break or time set aside for relaxing and provide space and time for self-care activities.

Every worker can agree that we have all expanded our knowledge and vocabulary about viruses, pandemics, remote working and virtual work, to name a few terms. Perhaps, we'll add a few more less-stressful words to our lexicon in the coming months as well, like "flexible jobs," "passionate work" and "positive workplaces."

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