The past year has been really tough on remote-working employees. A new survey of 1,000 remote employees released by HR software company BambooHR shows just how tough it's been. Seventy-eight percent believe that working remotely, combined with the pandemic and economic downturn, has damaged their careers. Many believe they've lost thousands of dollars in raises they should have gotten. If you're an employer of remote employees, all this is bad news. And it may explain why about a third of respondents say they plan to leave their jobs within the next six months.
Companies large and small have taken cost-cutting steps in response to the pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty. In the survey, 69 percent reported their employers had instituted hiring freezes, promotion freezes, salary or benefit cuts, or other similar measures. More than a third say they've had promotions denied or delayed during the pandemic, and when this group was asked how much annual compensation they lost as a result, they put that loss at an average of $9,823.
At the same time as they feel their careers are flagging, most respondents are suffering from burnout. Seventy-nine percent say they feel burned out on at least a monthly basis, and 53 percent say they're burned out at least every week. Top causes for the burnout, they say, are remote work's "always on" culture--19 percent keep their phones with them even in the bathroom so they won't miss a message from work--and the strain of balancing job and life in a remote-work setting.
Most respondents--69 percent--report that this past year's burnout is the worst they've encountered. And 15 percent agreed with this statement: "I thought I'd been burned out before, but 2020 was a whole new level of bad." All this helps explain why about a third say that in the next six months they plan to look for a new job, switch careers, switch industries, go back to school, or just take a nice long break.
For employers, especially small and startup companies, these results highlight a particular dilemma in the waning days of the pandemic. Last year, as infections spread and much of the economy ground to a near-halt, it seemed only prudent for most companies to cut costs and withhold raises. With unemployment spiking, many remote employees were happy to have jobs at all.
But that was then. Today's economy looks very different. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that unemployment claims had dropped for the sixth week in a row. They're still higher than before the pandemic, but other stats show just how tight the labor market really is. Job openings reached a record 9.3 million in April, while layoffs hit their lowest point in more than 20 years. And a record four million people quit their jobs, signaling their confidence that they could get other employment.
If you're like most employers, especially small ones, you can't afford to simply reinstate all the raises, promotions, and perks you would have given employees during the pandemic. On the other hand, in this labor market, your best employees--and even the mediocre ones--can probably find other jobs quite easily. What should you do? Here's some advice from BambooHR's director of HR, Cassie Whitlock.
1. Consider a one-time bonus.
Whitlock believes the survey respondents are right--many employees have indeed lost raises that they would normally have gotten during the pandemic. "I think that's something all leaders and business owners need to be aware of," she says. "How do we address any economic gaps employees experienced? It doesn't have to be that you give everybody a raise. Maybe look at some kind of bonus program for the organization as you continue to watch the health and stability of your company."
That could be money well spent, she adds: "It's also stepping back and looking at the cost to you as a business when you lose top talent. You lose that knowledge and skill, and the time it takes to bring on a new person and get their knowledge to where that individual was. If we ask whether it is worth it to keep this individual fully engaged, I think a lot of times the answer is going to be yes. And doing so swiftly matters."
2. Help employees fight burnout.
Burnout can be partly self-inflicted, Whitlock notes, so you can start by encouraging remote employees to build the sorts of breaks into their days that happen naturally when someone is working in an office and, for instance, stops to chat with a co-worker.
Beyond that, she says, "We have to build new social rules and engagement for your business to make remote work actually sustainable. If it's burning your people out, it's not working for you." One simple step, she says, is to schedule virtual meetings for 50 or 55 minutes instead of an hour, so that employees can have a bit of a break between them.
3. Help employees feel connected to your company.
Begin by making sure employees understand your company's larger mission and the role they play in it, Whitlock says. Beyond that, "I know it's a hard thing to ask for, especially in a small or medium-size business, but time is the most valuable thing you have," she says. "So are you making time for listening? Not just talking to your employees but genuinely listening?"
Taking time to do that will help you find the root causes of burnout and other problems so you can address them, she says. "Making time and a consistent commitment to listening and talking about these issues matters." she says. That in itself may also improve retention. "It should help your team members reengage," she says. "They may say, 'Wait a minute! I do want to be part of this company rather than find some other organization that may or may not be listening.'"