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Managing work-life balance in the online world

The new era of remote work has proved that productivity and effectiveness are not defined by the number of hours we physically spend in the office, but by the quality of work we produce and the quality of the life we live. The pandemic has changed the way we work, blurring the line between life and work while raising questions around the long-term impacts on our mental wellness and the ‘always on’ mentality. The continuing anxiety is creating volatile situations, at home and at work, and as our workplace and office all blend into one, these have a profound impact on our wellbeing and relationships.

The changing brain

A recent neuroscience study estimates that eleven months of working and socialising online has had a significant impact on how our brains function. The research suggests that we might be more forgetful, due to having the same routine and experiences in the same surroundings over and over again, but our brains are actually becoming sharper as they are forced to constantly rewire in response to new challenges.

Whilst the pandemic increased the levels of stress and anxiety, the constant rewiring provides cognitive protection, which is the single most effective strategy against dementia. But it also appears that our brains do miss the office chit chat, as it provides us with natural screen breaks and relief from the intensity of work. There is also less stimulation and novelty as we are not experiencing the same level of new events that we could share with others, which means we tell less anecdotes and stories when we talk to each other.

Naming burnout when we see it

A recent HBR study of a diverse group of professionals from the London offices of a global law and accounting firms explored the question about how we can free ourselves from unhealthy working habits and to reach a more sustainable and rewarding work-life balance. The findings highlighted that achieving better balance between professional and work life is not a one-time fix, but rather, a cycle that we need to engage in continuously as our personal circumstances and the pandemic evolve. Strategies that have been proven to help re-balancing included taking a step back to pause, learning to reprioritise and implement changes, as well as paying attention to emotions and mental wellbeing.

Failing to address burnout is costly – both on the individual and organisational level. Pre-pandemic research identified that in 2019 burned-out employees were 2.6 times more likely to look for a new job. Whilst we increasingly understand burnout better, many business leaders still find it challenging to identify when it impacts their employees. Avoiding burnout is often easier than bouncing back from it, so it’s important to learn to identify it early and prevent it from getting worse. However, it’s equally important for leaders to look after themselves and put on their own oxygen mask before helping others.

Burnout comes in many shapes and forms, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but supporting employees in their struggles and actively listening will help leaders to find ways to reduce stress. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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