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Setting boundaries in a hybrid workplace

As we closed on last year influenced by the ongoing pandemic, one of the words that resonated most in the workplace has been burnout. Burnout played a significant role in absenteeism and a mass departure from work, causing the new phenomenon – The Great Resignation.

Whilst the pandemic didn’t redefine burnout, it has certainly aggravated it, as many people have experienced an extreme intensification of their workloads and rising emotional challenges. Mental health, healing and pulling together were key themes of 2021, according to Google’s Year in Search data. The year's biggest search terms not only revealed the effect that COVID-19 has had on our mental health, but also the change in our priorities. The shift to remote work accelerated moves from busy cities to rural areas, and the quest to find the right work-life balance also resulted in many people leaving their jobs for good, forcing organisations to re-evaluate how they attract and retain talent.

Setting boundaries is a team project

While many employees value the greater flexibility of remote work, a major downside is the idea that they are “always on,” or available to work 24/7. However, evaluations should be based on performance, not promptness in answering a late-night email. According to Harvard Business Review, half of all employees today struggle to set boundaries when working from home. It is therefore important for leaders to model these behaviours by showing that it is acceptable to not always be ‘online’ and setting healthy boundaries. People are working longer hours and lacking the separation of the commute and watercooler chats, and they struggle with a lack of downtime that is critical to the innovative thinking that moves organisations forward.

On the positive side, the pandemic normalised and opened conversations about mental health. As people are feeling prolonged stress and fatigue, they have become more comfortable admitting when they are not feeling well. But employees don’t experience mental health challenges in isolation. Employers play a role, too – both in a positive and negative sense, as burnout is a business problem, not an employee problem. It happens when there is mismatch between the organisation and its employees in one or more of the following areas: amount of control, fair treatment, a sense of community, workload levels, rewards, and organisational values. And leaders can help to prevent it.

Engagement and burnout are not exclusive

A growing body of research explores the link between high engagement and burnout, showing even engaged workers can also become exhausted — especially during the pandemic. A recent study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center found that nearly one in five workers showed signs of high engagement and burnout, and that engaged and burned-out workers expressed the highest intention of quitting among the employees surveyed.

Research by Harvard Business Review suggests that when leaders openly support employee well-being, they are 25 percent more likely to be happy at work. But this requires equipping managers to be part of the solution by first raising awareness on the challenges employees face at work. Without face-to-face communication, many employees miss having a sense of shared purpose and are more indifferent to their employers, whilst at the same time, organisations are struggling to retain and recruit talent in a highly competitive environment.

Leading an organisation has never been easy, however the context now, after two years of uncertainty with only more uncertainty in sight, demands greater agility, humanity, and clarity than ever before. 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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