Don’t let digital burn-out kill your career

August 31, 2021 | Phil Fersht

The days of everyone talking about the “new” culture of working from home are so over

This isn’t new, it’s the way we do business today across all industries and job functions where physical office visits are non-essential.  If it gets done over Zoom it stays on Zoom.  Most people travel for vacations and personal needs, not business anymore.  18 months in, and we’re not going back – we’re efficient, we’re intense, we get things done in a much faster, cheaper, and family-friendly manner. 

A recent study of service provider staff in India showed that 90% do not want to go back to an in-office culture, with staff getting 10-20 hours a week back from their nightmare commutes; in the UK staff are furious about being forced to commute to work and in the US conferences are being canceled en masse and most offices are virtually empty, despite staff having the option to go to work.  Of course, when the pandemic eventually fades there will be more conferences and physical meet-ups, but the days of many people traveling and commuting regularly for their jobs are over.

As our Pulse Data of 800 major organizations shows, 40% of workers are going to be home-based for the foreseeable future:

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People just don’t want to put their career before their lifestyle anymore... and we have to adapt

We are in serious danger of our careers becoming subdued and de-emphasized in the current climate.  While I am one of the first people to laud the increased focus on family commitments and having a pragmatic approach to the highs and lows of our professional lives, I am seeing clouds of demotivation gathering and sapping much of the passion and excitement out of our industry.  You only need to see the pathetic levels of enthusiasm for digital conferences, webinars, thought leadership right across the industry to realize that many people are just not as engaged with their jobs as they used to be.

I love the fact that so many employers are giving their staff “mental health breaks” (such as Nike recently following similar initiatives from the likes of LinkedIn, Bumble, Mozilla, and Hootsuite).  We’ve even been giving a few Fridays off for staff at HFS to allow them to take long weekend breaks.  However, we won’t be very effective businesses if we grant our staff 6+ weeks of PTO each year! 

In short, mental health at work is a massive issue, and something employees need to tackle head-on.  Employers can offer as much support as they can, with time off, counseling, good management, and good resources, however, there comes a point where staff have to figure out how to keep themselves motivated.  Let's be honest, we're living in a world where your work experience runs the risk of becoming yet another digital channel to fit alongside Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, and whatever else consumes your digital time these days.

The Bottom-line: 10 ways we can re-motivate our careers

  1. Prioritize non-Zoom time to focus yourself.  At HFS we have “no meetings Wednesdays” where we insist staff use the time to get their written / cerebral work done without the constant distraction of video meetings.  It’s impossible to execute well on your work when you don’t have chunks of time to focus your thoughts.  We used to use plane time/hotel time a lot for this type of work… not we need to carve it out.  If your employer won’t sanction a no-meeting day, then create one for yourself and block off you calendar.  If there is push-back, you should seriously question the mentality of your leaders and whether this is a company adapting to the virtual economy.
  2. Embrace change and explore new roles with your leadership.  Many people are discovering/developing new skills in the virtual economy – things they thought they were bad at, they are improving dramatically at.  The fear of change is dissipating from so many, and the ideas of trying new things are so important today.   Careers can go stale and this environment may have accelerated your sell-by date for doing a certain activity, and it’s time to freshen it up.  So talk to your bosses and your mentors… have a look at jobs going in other firms.  It’s time to embrace change and put yourself in a position to do new things that could energize you and refocus your skills.
  3. Meet fellow workers and clients local to you.  Nothing is more energizing than merely seeing faces familiar to you from 18 months ago… just do it.  And don’t sit in an offering staring at PowerPoint, go to lunch or dinner.  Start enjoying meeting folks local to you where there is little stress, and the time investment is minimal.
  4. Orient your work effectively around your family commitments.  It’s been a hard time for so many Moms (and Dads) taking care of our families, and some have been amazing at finding the time to become more focused, efficient, and flexible to get work done.  The nice-to-five is over folks and we need to find times like late evenings / early mornings where we can deliver.  The key is to make sure your employer gets this and judges you on outcomes… not simply that you were online during “office hours” every day.
  5. Spread meetings out over longer periods.  The lockdown intensity of packing your calendar with 10 back-to-back Zoom meetings all day have to end.  You will burn-out and become a jabbering idiot.  It’s OK to book meetings 3-4 weeks out, and you must create mental breaks for yourself during the day.  We aren’t robots and if we don’t manage our time better we will start to become them.
  6. Keep learning new things.  There probably hasn’t been a more critical time to stay ahead of market developments, new business models, new technologies etc.  You must find time to read and network.., the only two ways you will keep learning.
  7. Keep networking and stop making virtual excuses.  The excuses of “I can’t develop relationships over video calls” are done.  If you can’t, then you’re toast.  Find time to keep in touch with key people and also to get to know new folks who can help you. 
  8. Get a decent webcam.  If your laptop camera sucks then buy a webcam.  You can get one for $25 on Amazon for chrissakes.  And get rid of the up-nostril view… please.
  9. Keep exercising and keep healthy.  Sit on a yoga-ball all day… buy a Peloton.  The days of lockdown are over and you don’t have excuses for the expanded girth, the excessive booze consumption, or whatever bad things you do to keep yourself amused.  Poor physical health eventually means poor mental health and your employer giving you mental health breaks won’t cut it forever.
  10. Reevaluate your own goals and stop living off past glories. I know so many people clinging onto their past work glories, which may never return in this very different work culture.  Trying to cling on to an inflated salary is not a strategy - it's potentially asking for trouble down the road if you're failing to innovate your capabilities and value to your organization. The cost of living has changed for many of us - we don't need two cars in the family, we save a lot on commuting and eating out... on all sorts of things.  So why not evaluate what you want to do with your career, the type of organization you want to work for, and whether you can afford to rationalize short-term earnings to chase future opportunities for yourself?  

Posted in: HR StrategyDigital OneOfficeGlobal Workforce and Talent

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