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Worker Woes: Where's That Wellness Lifeline?


A woman experiencing work burnout
Image: olezzo -
After a year and a half of working alone from spare bedrooms and kitchen tables, increasing number of remote employees are throwing up the white flag and expressing feelings of fatigue, paranoia, and isolation.
For their part, workplace leaders and strategists have worked creatively to promote workplace wellness throughout the pandemic, hosting and supporting Zoom happy hours and various other virtual team-building activities. However, over time, the allure of such workplace novelties has vanished for many employees, and workplace wellness has suffered. For perspective, global staffing firm Robert Half found that 49% of 2,800 workers surveyed between March 26-April 15 of this year are experiencing burnout, up from the 34% of workers who reported experiencing burnout in a similar 2020 survey.
A number of factors can help improve workplace wellness, but employee engagement provider Wildgoose found two things that are crucial for happy employees: a workplace best friend and face-to-face activities. In a survey of employees from 1,052 companies, Wildgoose found that 40% of workers didn’t have a work best friend, a 3% increase from its 2017 survey. Of those workers with a work best friend, 57% said that it makes work more enjoyable. Additionally, having a work friend is associated with job satisfaction, emotional support, and higher productivity, Wildgoose said.
Pre-pandemic, managers and workplace leaders could gauge employee wellness during in-person events and team-building activities. While digital alternatives became a quick workplace culture fix, they apparently can’t replace the tried-and-true in-person versions. Wildgoose found 46% of employees surveyed preferred in-person happy hours, while only 10% enjoyed the virtual alternative more. Similarly, workers preferred in-person team-building activities over their virtual counterparts, Wildgoose reported.
Even the tools that kept many workplaces connected during the pandemic, most notably team collaboration and video meeting apps, might have in some cases exacerbated the workplace paranoia and burnout. Many employees have expressed feelings that other employees are judging them or their surroundings since video meetings serve as a window into an employee's personal life.
Remote work itself can create a lot of anxiety and paranoia for workers too, as executive coach Melody Wilding shared in a Harvard Business Review article. For instance, an employee who is waiting on a proposal response might be prone to think their work is not good or that leadership is mocking their efforts, Wilding explained. Also, when working remotely, employees can have a hard time interpreting body language and other social cues, Wilding added.
Though the above paints a somewhat bleak outlook for employee wellness, it also hints at potential solutions. If workplace leaders want to improve the employee experience, then they’ll need to invest and strategize ways to make employees feel connected to their workplace and their fellow employees. While designating a work friend to each employee might be a bit awkward, nurturing mentorship and reverse mentorship can create a sense of comradery and connectedness among workers.
While employee paranoia might be harder to address than other workplace issues, by focusing on the basics — ensuring each employee feels valued and appreciated and openly discussing mental health topics — then I think the problem will address itself over time. And like I’ve often touted in previous WorkSpace Connect articles, leadership needs to be present and driving the conversation. Without effective workplace leadership, we all might be headed towards another year of record burnout.

Are you looking for more discussions and insights into workplace topics like the employee experience? Then, make sure to attend Enterprise Connect this fall, which will feature a Workplace Strategies track that features discussion on hybrid work, employee experience, and more. As a WorkSpace Connect reader, use the promo code WSCNL to save $200 off the current registration rate. Register here!