Employees Miss Breaks while Working Remotely

The work week has gotten 10 percent longer as the digital office environment has blurred the lines between professional and personal time, according to a study published in the online journal Nature Human Behaviour. The need to be “on” means employees are attending endless meetings and making themselves available outside of work hours, adding to their stress and burnout, according to a story from associate editor Amanda Schiavo of Employee Benefit News.

“When the pandemic hit we all were trying to find ways to stay connected, and that’s when we started adding more meetings [to our calendars] and all these other touchpoints to make sure we’re not feeling disengaged,” says Maria Aveledo, chief business officer at Octane, an auto-specific financial services company. “But of course all that does is end up resulting in longer work days and exhaustion.”

Seventy-eight percent of employees say their meeting schedule is out of control, according to one SurveyMonkey report. But employees are also grappling with guilt around taking necessary breaks: six in 10 employees surveyed by Freshly say they feel guilty about taking any kind of break while working from home.

Octane didn’t want its 380 employees to succumb to fatigue and burnout, so it started looking into ways to provide better support. Analyzing the data it collected through employee surveys, Octane was able to come up with ways to help employees stay connected without sacrificing their mental health.

“There was a lot of frustration around the meetings employees were being pulled into, the hours they felt they had to work more because they were at home,” Aveledo says. “There’s no separation between work and your personal life.”

One of the ideas it came up with was instituting a dedicated lunch hour, where employees block off one full hour every day to step away from their work and decompress. This set the tone for how the rest of the day should be structured, Aveledo explained.

“That’s something small but it really made a difference,” she said. “We’re not only tackling it by setting a lunch hour, we also wanted to go back to the root of the problem of why are we having so many meetings in the first place. We’ve been working to figure out how we can change our overall meeting strategy.”

Some of the changes include speeding up meeting duration, limiting the number of people from one department who need to be in the meeting, making sure not to schedule meetings back to back, and reducing the number of meetings that could instead be an informative email. Octane also partnered with an organization that trains companies to run better, more effective meetings.

“It’s about the best use of people’s time, especially when you have so many people from different departments working together,” Aveledo said. “We’re trying to work out different ways [to support employees] and also give employees the tools and strategies they need to be more effective with their time.”