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If you have a leadership role in your organization, you likely want to know this fact: Exhausted workers are costing you big time. 

In this post, we’ll look at the primary sources of exhaustion among knowledge workers. Then we’ll examine how you can solve this extremely expensive problem. 

For a more in-depth discussion of how to create a productive work culture, read my book Everyone Wants to Work Here.

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What’s making us so tired?

A comical image of a tired worker with head on laptop and post-it notes on her head

The first step to supporting your team members at work is to identify the causes of their exhaustion. Here are some primary culprits:

 

Constant Connection 

With chat, email, Zoom, and all our platforms and gadgets, we can connect anytime from anywhere. And while most people don’t want to work 24/7/365, they don’t feel comfortable fully disconnecting from work; instead, they feel obligated to respond to incoming messages—the sooner the better.

 

Ineffective Success Metrics

While many of us would like to think that the days of being tethered to an office desk are behind us, the truth is disconcerting. A 2022 survey of 200 US executives found that 41% agree that employees who work primarily remotely are less likely to be considered for promotions. So it looks like we are stuck in our old ways, with many leaders still valuing seat time.

 

Multitasking 

Research shows that multitasking is a myth. It just means switching between tasks, focusing on one first and then the other. The problem is that when we shift our attention between tasks, it takes us several minutes to refocus. Research shows that when we task switch, everything takes longer and the quality is lower. But this is how most knowledge workers operate throughout the workday—and it’s inefficient and exhausting!

 

Unused Vacation Time

The majority of American workers leave vacation time on the table, claiming that it’s too stressful to prepare to be gone, and equally stressful to return to a pile of work once their vacation is over. In other words, it’s not even worth it. Worse, studies show that two out of three workers do at least some work while on vacation. If the purpose of vacation is to rest and recharge, most workers—even those who take time off–are failing to get the full benefit—which means employers aren’t getting a return on their investment in paid vacation.

 

The cost of disengagement and burnout

 

Now that we’ve had a quick overview of what’s causing all this exhaustion, let’s talk about what it costs companies. In the short-term, the cost of exhausted employees is that your company won’t reap the benefits of a workforce that is operating at peak productivity. In the longer term, though, your team members are likely to disengage or burn out.

According to the Gallup report State of the Global Workplace, replacing workers requires one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. If a workforce has an average annual salary of $50,000, it costs $9,000 a year to keep each disengaged worker and between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace them.

The saddest part is that most employees say their companies could have made changes to keep them on the job. So the problem of burnout is costly both to individuals and to the company’s bottom line.

 

 

Leaders: Exhaustion is optional

If we boil down the problems of what’s making our workforce so tired, we can say it comes down to two main issues: 1) Team members work too much, and 2) Often there’s an unintentionally toxic culture that prizes the 24/7/365 workers—awarding extra points to those who work on vacation and show up in the office.

To solve these problems, first and foremost, leaders need to offer a truly useful view of work-life balance. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Help employees get work done while at work instead of multitasking on minutiae all day. It’s not that employees are slacking off. They are managing endless communication and attending back-to-back meetings that seem necessary and feel productive in the moment. But it leads to days that end with, “Oh my gosh, I was busy all day, and somehow I still got nothing done!”

 

2. Train employees in workflow management skills that include attention management, so they can accomplish more in less time with less stress.

 

3. Set a company communication policy that clearly outlines when employees should communicate using what platforms and for what purposes.

 

Most importantly, it’s not enough to give lip service to work-life balance, or even write it out in some office policy that isn’t really enforced. To transform office culture, leaders need to: 

1. Model appropriate downtime by not sending late-night emails and not working while on vacation.

 

2. Learn attention management skills and practice them. This involves carving out focused time for yourself and may require you to clearly define what you mean by  “open-door policy.” Then, empower your team to solve their own problems by mentoring in hindsight.  

 

3. Create and follow your company communication policy. As a leader, it’s especially important for you to “practice what you preach.” 

 

How to energize your team

If you want to create a vibrant office culture—one in which team members are relaxed and fulfilled, while achieving their most significant results—you’ll need to internalize the idea that often the best thing people can do for their work is not work. This is backed up by studies that show productivity starts to decrease after working 50 hours a week. Plus, 38-45 productive hours beats 50+ multitasking, frazzled hours all day long.

Then, you’ll need to ensure that leaders model the behaviors they want to see in their team members. 

If you want to:

  • energize your team,
  • attract the best talent, and
  • be the leader in your market

read my book Everyone Wants to Work Here

I’ll show you exactly how to empower your team to build effective habits to accomplish your goals—without exhaustion and stress.

Get the Book

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