A Team Blind study conducted in February 2020 found that 75 percent of marketing and communications professionals reported feeling burned out. Not surprisingly, this was the most of any job function surveyed — with the number one reason being an unmanageable workload.
The World Health Organization describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” There are three recognizable symptoms: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Before the pandemic, communications and marketing professionals were already busy managing multiple digital facets of their business. This could include internal and external emails, website development, social media content creation, community engagement, media relations, analytics tracking, advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), automation, and more.
On top of this already full workload, almost overnight, digital communications became even more important to operations. Many businesses moved entirely online due to COVID-19. This has also led to meetings moving online and a rising trend of live video meetings. Conducted after the onset of the pandemic, the same Team Blind survey revealed an even greater number (83%) of marketing and communications professionals were feeling burned out. Employees cited no separation between ‘work’ and ‘life’ as the number one reason.
Fewer Boundaries = Less Balance
Without establishing boundaries and preventing burnout, communicators face negative mental and physical health effects lasting beyond the pandemic. With the shift to digital operations likely becoming permanent for many businesses, communicators need to find the time and strategies for taking breaks from workplace tech and create more balance in their lives.
Here are some tips for setting digital boundaries during the workday, to help balance professional and personal life, for both communications staff and managers:
- Less Meeting Time. Push back on excessive meeting requests, suggesting either shorter meeting times, fewer attendees, or audio-only meetings in place of video.
- Take Audio Breaks. If you’re faced with multiple video meetings back-to-back, give yourself an ‘audio only’ break, where you not only turn off your camera but also turn or walk away from the screen while listening and speaking for the remainder of the meeting.
- Rule of 20. Implement the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eye strain and the negative effects associated with it. This practice can also remind you to take more breaks in your work.
- Time Out. Block off time in your calendar during the workday and let coworkers know you’ll be unreachable (aside from potential emergencies). Use this time for focused, uninterrupted work, or activities other than work and go for a walk, read a book, take an actual lunch break (not eat in front of your computer), etc.
- Boundaries Matter. Set scheduled boundaries between your work and personal lives. Block off after-work hours in your calendar, and even set out of office replies between the end of one workday and the beginning of another. It may seem strange or unnecessary to do so but setting expectations with your colleagues that you are intentional about your hours will help delineate ‘work’ and ‘life’, and reflect your values. This is also a helpful tactic if your workplace offers flexible hours for employees.
- Understand the signs. Be able to identify mental health issues that can be magnified for employees working from home. Knowing the signs and offering support when needed is necessary for a healthy workplace.
- Know your staff. Learn what types of communications employees prefer. Some staff enjoy video meetings, while others are exhausted by them. Get to know the preferences of your staff and find a mix that is the best fit for your team.
- Encourage balanced hours. Help employees set boundaries with their work schedules – and set your own too! Working from home can easily lead to overworking and pressure to work when it’s not necessary. Even if your organization offers flexible hours, discuss individual expectations with employees so they’re not working more than necessary to do their jobs well.
- Trust your employees. Communicate expectations clearly and avoid micromanaging, two issues that are exacerbated by virtual meetings, where body language, casual conversations and other forms of communication aren’t shared. If your employees are feeling unsure about their quality of work or job security, this can lead to further negative impacts on their mental health and performance.
- Lead by example. It can be difficult for managers to set boundaries and prioritize their personal lives, even if they want the rest of their team to do so. However, if staff see their manager working after hours, scheduling meeting after meeting, ‘always on’ video, etc., they will follow suit with the subconscious expectations being set.
These are just some tips that can be used to help communicators set digital boundaries throughout the workweek. We’d love to hear more ideas for tips – leave your comments below!