Globally, many businesses have transitioned to remote working. This has forced many corporations to help their workforce develop new working cultures and work ethics. Locally, here in Ghana, the story is not much different. I have held sessions with thought leaders and business managers on how they can gradually school their employees on a working from home culture.
On the other hand, I have also engaged employees and team players who are complaining about being over worked because clear boundaries have not been set with their new work from home environment. Whilst leaders or managers should be looking to still get the best output from their teams, the problem of employee burnout should be of great concern to them. Lots of research suggests that drawing lines between our professional and personal lives is crucial, especially for our mental health. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in this piece. This discussion will simply compel you to consider new habits that will favour not only you by your employer as well.
Is a win-win situation possible? Can team-leads get projects completed in time without overburdening their people? Can team members perform at the highest level of productivity without overtaxing themselves or working ridiculous hours? There has always been the silent notion that to achieve success, or to get things done at an optimal level, one must work extra hard; one must do more. While this belief may not be completely false, I believe the focus or the concept is questionable. A person will not merely succeed from sitting several hours behind a desk every single day, including weekends even. Not every task requires doing more to attain more.
Productivity is generally understood as measure of efficiency. And efficiency in the business sense may be defined as maximising your resources to make the most out of them. There is no mention of doing more or less. However, the focus is on how well you are utilizing time, energy and resources to result in the targeted outcome.
Writer Charles Duhigg, in his book Smarter Faster Betterdefines productivity as “making certain choices in certain ways” that moves us from being “merely busy” to “genuinely productive”. Leaders and their people must come to a common understanding that 24-hour engagement is not necessarily a productive use of time. Rather, designing tasks in a manner that allows members to rejuvenate and undertake activities outside of work while staying on schedule with deadlines may be the key to true and genuine success.
In a one-one-one session with a client, I sat silently and listened carefully to her narrate how difficult and overwhelming the last two months had been for her. Within these two months, she complained of working at odd hours because the time for work and non-work-related activities had been blurred since she started working from home. And due to the fear of losing her job, she had been unable to simply communicate to her boss the adverse effects this unstructured working culture was having on her.
From social media memes and posts, I have also gathered that my client’s situation is not unique to her. Many others are struggling to maintain healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives. Success at work does not mean having to put in herculean efforts to make it work. Putting pressure on yourself can make you feel small. Many of us believe that if we are not hard on ourselves and always choose ‘hard work’, we cannot get things done. Have we thought of getting our work done with top notch quality but with an easier and smarter approach?
In these unprecedented times, we have seen many organisations send out both public messages and private message to their employees requesting for their unwavering devotion as work may become more demanding. The will to show loyalty and devotion has tied the hands and shut the lips of several employees because complaining may make them look ungrateful. And while this may be sustainable in the short-term, should the new trend of remote working stretch on for several months, employee burnout will be on the rise and cause a working crisis for team managers and business leaders.
As we work from home, we may be forgetful and spend very long hours on our phones or behind our working computers. The need for walks and tea breaks still come to play. Because even in an environment such as home, although meant to be relaxing, can be switched into a stressful and tensed space that we require breaks from.
To properly utilize our time and be productive, we must dispend our energy on what matters. Everyone has 24 hours in the day. But how does one person achieve more than another person within the same time frame? One factor to look at is what your energy is focused on completing. You must ask yourself what the best line of performance will be every time you are given a task. You are not required to feel worn out and stressed before you can convince yourself that you have worked hard.
Energy is a limited resource. Energy should thus be spent wisely. One way to do this is to enforce a schedule and go by it. When you start to use your energy wisely, you will feel relaxed when getting work done. Your body will learn to ease into work when its time and it will prompt you when a break becomes necessary.
There is a concept referred to as “Ultradian rhythms”. This idea explains how our bodies and minds engage in 90- to 120-minute cycles. During this period, our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough. Toward the end of each cycle, our bodies begin to crave a period of recovery. There are several signs that may be exhibited when our bodies are craving a break. These may include physical restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating. If we ignore these signals, what happens is that we deplete our energy reservoir, which brings on the feeling of being burned out or completely worn out, rendering us incapable of even thinking clearly.
The waking rest-activity cycle or the 20-minute break was developed by Dr. Ernest Rossi to help in situations like these. When you are about 90 minutes into an activity, it is recommended that you take 20 minutes of rest, making a full cycle last 110 minutes. Everybody is different, however, so one full cycle for you could last anywhere from 80–120 minutes.
While the stress of these new times will not dissipate in the near future, we can take charge of the situation by enforcing boundaries. Take up a WORK-LIFE INTEGRATION CONCEPT: ‘True’ balance will most likely never be found, but a harmony through work life integration is attainable. Work-life integration evolved from the concept of work-life balance.
In embarking on a journey of a well-integrated life, we need to take an impartial and realistic approach. Employers can help employees achieve better integration by allowing them some autonomy over their work schedules. Although according to CareerBuilder.com, 63% of employees believe the traditional “9 to 5” is out-dated, this may be the time that many people may want this. It is all about communicating with our teams on what works to help them be high performers.
It is possible to still perform exceptionally while being a mother or a father or taking up other life roles. As an employee, here is how you can help prevent yourself from getting burned out:
- SEEK CLARITY as to who you are (your identity), what you do and understand the structure of your family and your work before you start anything at all.
- RAISE NECESSITY as to which concept meets your needs i.e. the concept of being balanced, the concept of being present or the concept of work-life integration. Choose the one that is most needful and that best addresses your standing challenges.
- MAINTAIN YOUR MIND STRENGTH about the entire situation because no matter the capacity of our intentions, many situations will rise up. It is pertinent that we maintain our intentions to be able to overcome the situations. Your mind strength will enable you to stay in the zone, be focused and propel you to implement whichever concept you have chosen.
- COMMUNICATE YOUR DECISION to the people that matter or that will be affected by your decisions. This includes your employer. Have an honest conversation on why you have decided to adopt a more structured working culture and assure them that you will still deliver on your promise to perform excellently and in timely fashion.
You are deserving of some flexibility to experiment with how to make your circumstances work for you in these unpredictable times. Devote your time and energy to top-priority issues, and stay present with your friends and family. When all parts of your life are well nourished, you will realize how easy and forthcoming it is to perform above and beyond expectations at work. All work and no play can burn you out.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017.
She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.