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The Workforce Is Burnt Out. Now What?

Kathy Horgan | State Street Corporation

May 12,2021

Alarm clock. Check email. Coffee. More email. Walk dogs, email. Shower. Email. It is not even 6 a.m. yet. Our workforce has a problem.

In the wake of the pandemic, the lines between work and life have blended so much that separation between the two has become almost nonexistent. As the kitchen table morphed into the home office – so too did the perception that being “always on” was somehow necessary to keep our respective industries running. Let me be clear: it is not.

We used to have our commutes, morning coffee runs, school drop-offs, gym routines, and even the time that it took to pick out an outfit. But with these activities, which had always been on the periphery of our workplace, gone, that same time has often been filled with more work.

Not only is this having an adverse impact on productivity and employee engagement; it also has some serious implications on the mental health of our workforce. In honor of Mental Health Week (May 10 – 16), we need to shine a light on the steep price of an always-connected workforce. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found that high rates of burnout and adverse mental health impacts have been reported among people remote workers during the pandemic.

This is no surprise. We used to think of working from home as a tool to help facilitate a better work-life balance; but the pandemic, which resulted in school closures, more people sharing space, and lost alone-time has had the opposite effect. As one employee aptly put it, “I no longer work from home, I live at work.”

Employers do have a choice to make. We can continue with the status quo which will likely lead to decreased productivity, unwanted turnover, and sub-optimal client service – or we can advocate for the work-life balance our employees need – the balance that is required to truly keep our industries resilient and running. Here at State Street, we are choosing the latter. 

In the wake of the pandemic, the lines between work and life have blended.

We recently introduced a Disconnect Day for all employees, globally, in addition to their regular paid time off. This extra day is specifically intended as an opportunity for our employees to prioritize their personal well-being. We are encouraging our employees – including our executives – to share publicly how they will be spending their time. I will be spending time trying out recipes that employees submitted as part of our BeWell cookbook and, yes, catching up on my Netflix queue as well.

While Disconnect Day is just one day, we are also encouraging everyday actions such as taking a lunchbreak, minimizing meetings during non-standard working hours, truly disconnecting during other scheduled time off throughout the year, and ensuring employees have time between meetings to transition and/or attend to daily tasks. We have also enhanced benefits such as in-home childcare for emergencies and in-home fitness subscriptions; and we provide access to mental health and wellness programs throughout the year, including our Mental Health Hub, meditation programs, wellness coaching, health challenges, and exercise classes.

These are the actions that feel right for State Street, but they are not a one-size-fits-all. My hope is that all employers take a look at your workforce, listen to feedback and ask yourself if what you are seeing is sustainable. If the answer is “no” – what are some immediate actions that you can put in place to change that?

To our workforce, I ask you to Put. Down. The. Phone. The email can (and should!) wait until at least your second cup of coffee. Our collective productivity and your personal wellbeing depend on it.

Topics: Leadership , Talent , Mental Health

Kathy Horgan | State Street Corporation

As the chief human resources and citizenship officer for our Global Human Resources (GHR) division, Kathy Horgan is responsible for all aspects of Global Human Resources and Corporate Citizenship company-wide, ensuring that employees feel engaged, valued and committed to the markets and clients they serve.