How to manage work from home fatigue and protect employee engagement

Working from home has been in full effect since the pandemic hit a year ago which is not just a long time for employees who thrive in social environments and would much rather work in-office, but it’s a long time for employees whose ‘normal’ is working in-office. And for employees who are not used to working from home, and in addition, are taking care of children or others while working remotely, it’s a juggling act that’s becoming exhausting. It’s not surprising that in a recent survey by Hibob, an HR and benefits management platform, more than half of the respondents (55%) want to work in an office environment again, and in a separate survey by Egress 73% of respondents reported feeling worse overall as a result of long-term remote working. 

Why this is worrying for businesses is because remote working fatigue affects key areas: productivity, communication, motivation and more, all of which negatively impacts employee engagement. But there are ways for businesses/HR teams to manage these effects, support their people and protect employee engagement. 

Here we dive into the problems arising for employees with work-from-home fatigue and how companies can detect and address them:

Difficulty focussing

Many employees have expressed their struggles with focus as remote working rolls on. Distractions within their home, i.e kids, their spouses, the laundry that needs to get done, technology fatigue, the monotony of working in the same, non-stimulating environment for long periods of time, and/or the dissatisfaction they feel towards their work-from-home experience. All of these contributors can greatly affect an employee’s ability to focus, which is not ideal for productivity and performance and may cause errors and poor execution of tasks. 

What to do: It’s not easy for HR leaders to detect when employees are unfocused if they aren’t physically working with them, but there are signs: employees are difficult to contact, they’re making more errors than usual, forgetting to complete tasks, forgetting to attend meetings etc. The best way to address this is for an HR leader to have a one-to-one meeting with the employee, and understand their feelings and struggles and perhaps put processes in place to support the employee. Whether that be a weekly catch up to find out how they’re doing and what they’re focussing on, or encouraging the employee to talk up about how they feel and what they need to feel better and more focussed.

A lack of motivation and productivity

A lack of motivation and, therefore, productivity is a big problem for employees with work-from-home fatigue. 44% of remote-working employees say they feel a lack of motivation, mostly due to fatigue and lack of interaction with colleagues. Employees typically motivate each other as they work together towards common goals, but unfortunately, motivation is affected when teams are geographically dispersed and individuals work in isolation. This means productivity dwindles. Self-motivation is required for successful home working, which is difficult for many people working in environments they feel uninspired by. 

What to do: Ensure teams are in constant contact with one another as they work towards objectives together, and try to encourage teams to talk about the goals and the exciting things too, not just the problems. Make sure that employees always feel like they’re part of a team and are not isolated, as they may feel working remotely. Encourage team leaders to share positive stats and feedback so that employees can see the impact their work has on the success of the team and the company.

Making errors

Fatigue, distraction, lack of motivation and focus can lead to an increase in error. Employees who are not totally engaged may conduct tasks half-heartedly, or forget to complete tasks at all. This is a big problem for teams as it hinders progress, may cause bottlenecks and affect other team members who are also trying their best to manage their work from home fatigue.

What to do: If you spot more than a few errors, address it immediately with the employee, but it’s important to do so in a way that’s understanding. Addressing errors by attacking an employee is only going to cause defensiveness and despondence. Employees who already feel negatively towards their working experience and perhaps working in general, will feel even worse about themselves and their work if addressed poorly by management. If you genuinely want to support and get the most from your people, show that you’re on their side and there to speak to and get support from.

Poor Communication 

You’ve likely heard of ‘zoom-fatigue’, and perhaps are even experiencing it yourself. Employees have expressed their struggles with relying heavily on technology and replacing physical interaction with one-dimensional communication channels. It’s in fact causing many people to despise remote communication: employees may be distracted during zoom meetings, not reply to emails or chat messages, or simply communicate poorly unconsciously. 

What to do: Try to understand what your people are feeling. The best way to do this is by conducting pulse surveys. You may see many red flags that confirm your people are feeling badly about their working experience, but you won’t know their exact struggles if you don’t ask them and provide them with the opportunity to tell you. If you know what your people are struggling with, you’ll be able to help them and solve problems seamlessly.

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