Top 5 leading indicators of stress and burnout in remote/hybrid employees

Back-to-back zoom meetings, fewer 1-on-1 interactions with managers and senior leaders, and long workdays are the hallmarks of remote work.   The hybrid work model promises to solve these ills, while also allowing employees to feel more connected and less isolated.  However, these work patterns tend to continue into the hybrid mode, increasing the risk of burnout, since employees now also deal with long commutes, and childcare, on top of other stresses.  

Attrition is not the sole risk factor for stressed and burned-out employees; they also tend to demotivate and demoralize others in their wake.  Taking a proactive approach is key to preventing burnout before it’s too late. Combining survey data with data on collaboration and work patterns allows us to identify the leading indicators for burnout and take swift action to mitigate that risk. Below are a few examples of metrics that we commonly see companies use to detect burnout drivers before it’s too late.

Here are five such leading indicators that indicate a high probability of burnout:

  1. Work-life balance (workday length): % of the workforce working longer than 9hrs
  2. Work-life balance (weekend work): % of the workforce working over 2hrs on weekends
  3. Over-Collaboration: % of employees with less than 3hrs+ of focus time a day
  4. Organizational Overhead: % of the team with 15 strong collaborators
  5. Isolation / Lack of Inclusion: % of the team with less than 3 strong collaborators

Poor work-life balance

Employees have long struggled to maintain a balance between work and personal lives. While remote work provided employees with a significant level of flexibility, it also blurred the lines between work and personal lives.  This blurring was very prevalent during the pandemic, when employees often took more breaks during the day but then worked longer, later into the day. This change in schedules has continued through the pandemic and does not show signs of slackening.  While it provides employees with more flexibility, it also means they have less time to relax afterward.  Work remains on their minds for longer, providing a less mental balance between work and life.

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Metric to track: % of the workforce working longer than 9hrs per day

In addition, a rising number of employees work significant hours on weekends. This trend appears to have worsened with remote work during the pandemic. The move to hybrid or full-time remote work has done little to reverse the trend, however, further increasing the risk of burnout.  People working long hours on weekends is another leading indicator of worsening employee wellbeing.

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Metric to track: % of the workforce working over 2hrs on weekends

Over-collaboration

Collaboration is a topic that is top of mind for many leaders in the post-pandemic world.  It is often cited as the reason for promoting hybrid or other in-person work activities. Remote or hybrid work has driven a lot more digital collaboration, particularly on teams that do not have mechanisms to support asynchronous coordination.  While some collaboration is helpful, there are hidden risks that can hurt team wellbeing.  

Too much collaboration can lead to highly distracted workdays for employees, allowing for a limited time for employees to focus and be productive.  Knowledge workers, like the ones often working remote or hybrid, need periods of 2hrs or more of uninterrupted time to focus on hard problem solving to get work done. Frequent slack messages, back-to-back meetings, and emails can frustrate employees especially those in high-pressure work environments with tight deadlines. This frustration often results in a sense of overwhelming stress for employees.  

Measuring the amount of focus time your employees have in a day can help companies understand the risk of this stress.  This leading indicator is key to understanding and mitigating burnout stress.

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Metric to track: % of employees with 3hrs+ of focus time a day

Organizational Overhead

Nothing frustrates us more than working in an environment where it is hard to get things done. These are workplaces where every decision is made via committee and requires countless meetings. This organizational overhead is a significant driver of burnout.

While the decision-making process is often tricky to measure directly, a strong proxy for organizational overhead is understanding how many close collaborators each employee has in their network.  This number indicates how many colleagues an employee has to work with to get any work done.  Those with too few are possibly isolated.  But in companies where employees have 20 or more close collaborators, we tend to see a high correlation between burnout risk and attrition.  These companies also tend to see survey responses highlighting frustration with slow decision-making and related issues.  

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Metric to track: % of the team with 15 strong collaborators

Isolation / Lack of Inclusion

While a lot of burnout risk is focused on employees who are over-worked or overloaded, the other extreme also carries a similar risk.  Employees who are not included in work networks can also become frustrated with the lack of support and inability to get work done.  Employees can face a sense of isolation from a variety of sources.  They can be excluded from their team meetings or have limited access to leadership, making it harder to showcase their work and skills.  The pandemic-driven remote work drove a huge sense of isolation for many, who felt they were out of sight, out of mind.

One quick proxy for measuring this sense of isolation in employees is by identifying how many have fewer than 3 strong collaborators.  Those employees are ones who often feel left out and disconnected from the rest of the organization.  Fewer than 3 collaborators also indicate low access to leadership and decision-makers.  

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Metric to track: % of the team with fewer than 3 collaborators

Summary

Remote and hybrid work provides many benefits for employees, yet if companies are not careful in how they implement these programs they may have unwanted consequences.  

Remote and hybrid work that is not implemented with care can increase attrition risk, leading to a demoralized workforce that is no longer as effective.  Leaders can avoid and mitigate these risks by being cognizant of these leading indicators. By measuring these trends they can also be proactive in their response to any issues and take prompt action to improve the employee experience.

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