Switching off to switch on: how to avoid hybrid working burnout

It’s easy for employees to become emotionally exhausted in an always-on, hyper-connected world. So how do you restore the work-life balance?

Yugi the Giraffe - 12 May 2022

With the shift to hybrid working, where your home is also your office, it can be hard to switch off. But what are the hidden health costs if you don’t?

“Ever since emails got put on our phones, our working day has increased,” says Emma Gannon, Sunday Times bestselling author, speaker and host of the creative careers podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete in a recent webinar with YuLife VP of Marketing, Lauren Berkemeyer. Listen to the full webinar here.

“We’re feeling slightly more disconnected from our friends, because of being isolated from lots of people for a long time, and we’re sort of numbing ourselves with our phones. I don’t blame anyone for that. We’ve had a really hard two years, so escaping into our phone and scrolling endlessly can be a way of dealing with that.”

Hybrid working is here to stay. Research by the Office of National Statistics indicates that 85% of home working adults want to use a hybrid approach in the future, and 24% of the businesses surveyed intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model.

“We all know this hasn’t been a usual couple of years, and we’re all struggling with what this means for the hybrid work environment, the way that we live and the way that we act,” comments Lauren Berkemeyer, YuLife’s VP of Marketing.

Businesses play a crucial role in guiding and supporting staff through the process of balancing their lives, but how can leaders help their employees to develop a healthy relationship with technology?

Set boundaries

“I recently read something that really stayed with me, which said that because a lot of us don’t have physical boundaries anymore, we’ve had to learn psychological boundaries,” says Emma. “That means really digging deep and putting those boundaries in place so that you can be a human being in one space, and move between different stages of your mental health.”

Emma suggests that might be something as simple as putting a work laptop away in the corner of a room and then meditating in another area. “We’ve had to learn these tools, because if you can’t shut the door on an office and walk or drive home, you’ve literally got to go from one end of your house to the other and feel like you’re switching off.”

Build micro-breaks into the day

With technology threaded so deeply through our work and personal lives, going on a full digital detox is not always a practical or desirable option. “I fail at them and I feel terrible about myself, so I think they don’t work for me,” says Emma.“I do other things that I like to think of as micro-detoxes or micro-breaks in the day.

“One thing I did years ago and I still do, is that I put my phone on aeroplane mode for maybe an hour or even ten minutes,” says Emma.” You’ll then get really into something and realise that you don’t need to be checking it.

“I also book a lot of things in my diary where I’m just not going to be on my phone. Going for walks, having a meeting where I can see someone in person… just anything to make sure your diary has quite a lot in there where phones aren’t really allowed.”

Create space for free time

It’s important to enable staff to block out a period each day for free time, Emma suggests. “I schedule the time in advance so that no one can take it away from me, and then I go in and I delete this block so that it’s just free time in the diary. Because psychologically, I don’t want my free time to be like a scheduled appointment.”

Having blank spaces in the diary can help people to stay in tune with what their goals are, she adds. “What you actually want to achieve that week, what you actually want to achieve that day, and just where you are in your life.”

Make after-hours communication policy clear

People should have the ‘right to disconnect’ and not respond to messages outside of normal work hours, even if that right is not formally recognised in law as it is in France, Italy and Spain.

“For big organisations, that’s probably a good thing,” agrees Emma, “because otherwise it can get out of control and it can get very intense. Sometimes the exhaustion from working in big corporations isn’t actually from the workload, it’s from your colleagues, it’s from your boss, it’s from the internal politics that can actually affect your mental health more than the job itself.

“If there’s a policy to switch off, great, because then you can use it. And if you don’t want to use it, there should be the freedom to do that.”

Clarity is key when it comes to emails, adds Emma. “Communicating how you’re working is really important. For example, if someone emails me at midnight, but they say ‘I’m emailing at a time that suits me, do not reply until you can’, even that kind of transparent one-liner just helps.”

Know your audience

The trend towards businesses scheduling mental health days or weeks needs to continue, industry research indicates. The HSE published a report in December 2021 which revealed that 822,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2020/21.

“Instead of leaders sitting in a boardroom and deciding whether to have a mental health week or not, why not ask people what they want, what will help them to be better and thrive?” proposes Emma.

While flexible working can benefit some employees, such as parents with childcare arrangements, others may feel the need to work voluntarily outside of their normal hours.

“We’re all different,” says Emma. “We’re not just workers who sit in our little offices getting work done. We’re people with lives and really rich textures behind the scenes of who we are. So I think that managers and colleagues knowing more about us and designing work around who we are isn’t too much to ask.”

Prevent burnout

Technology has given employees the ability to work anywhere at any time, and overwork is becoming normalised to the detriment of a healthy work/life balance. According to the CIPD’s Good Work Index 2001 survey, 24% of respondents find it hard to relax in personal time because of their work, and one in five respondents agree or strongly agree that their job affects their personal life.

“It’s baffling to think why we associate productivity and business with our self-worth, like [we’re] being better people if we’re busy, busy, busy,” says Emma. “The amount of hours in the day don’t actually tally up with what we’re doing now. It’s like when the Hoover was invented, the point was that you could clean more quickly and then you could sit down and have free time. But actually, people just vacuumed more.

Small adjustments to routines, however, can lead to significant, sustainable long-term change. For example, Emma uses a meditation app called Insight Timer. “I just do that for about 15 minutes every morning and my whole nervous system is calmer.”

The principle of micro-changes to daily habits being beneficial to wellbeing is one that underpins the popular YuLife app. Making minutes for mindfulness and meditation and taking a few extra steps each day brings not only physical and mental health benefits for employees, but also financial ones that can be redeemed through the app.

“I think you’re going to do a better job when you’re taking care of yourself, and what YuLife is doing is so amazing,” says Emma.

“I have a very close friend who was very good at packing her days. She was that person who was always on the phone between meetings, cramming in ten minutes between here, there and everywhere. But she had burnout really badly and had to take three months off work to recover. So I’m a really big believer in not cramming things in when, at the end of the day, you end up not being productive because you’ll be trying to get better.”

Yugi the Giraffe

Yugi is our YuLife mascot. Like all giraffes they've got a big heart – in fact the biggest heart of all land animals.