A Human Energy Crisis: Strategies for Preventing Burnout

In the wake of multiple crises in the past few years, entrepreneurs are now facing a new one: a human energy crisis. As it turns out, the workplace flexibility afforded by the pandemic came at a cost.

As Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer and EVP, writes, “Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen workday span increase more than 13% and after-hours and weekend work are up 28% and 14% respectively.”

The result? Workers around the globe are exhausted. And at the same time, they care more about their health and well-being than ever. In Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index, a survey of thousands of workers worldwide, 53% of respondents said they’re more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work than before. Now more than ever, we don’t want work to consume all of our energy.

As CEO of Jotform, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned for my energy — and our employees’ — at certain points during these last three years. And yet, we managed to release new products and continue to grow our team. Here are some expert-backed strategies for drastically improving your energy levels. They’ve worked for me and hopefully, they will for you and your team.

Take a strategic approach to sleep

The secret to improved cognitive performance, boosted learning ability, brighter mood, and better overall health lies in sleep. Getting enough shut-eye is one surefire way to improve your life — and your business. And yet, so many of us — 80% as reported by the New York Times — struggle to get enough.

The solution, however, may be less straightforward than it seems. It’s not a matter of forcing yourself to bed before 9:00pm or committing to exercise before dawn, but rather, determining what kind of sleeper you are and committing to a schedule that honors your body’s natural sleep tendencies.

There are five main kinds of sleepers, or chronotypes, ranging from strong evening (aka, night owl) to strong morning (aka, early bird). It all has to do with when your inner clock starts to produce melatonin — for an early bird, that might be around 6:30pm, while a night owl may be closer to midnight. You can take a quiz to figure out your chronotype and whether it fits with your actual sleep schedule. Then, consider what kind of changes you may want to make so that your chronotype and sleep schedule align more closely.

Being strategic about your sleep can help you to get more of it without trying to rewire your natural rhythms.

Focus on maintaining, not just gaining,energy

When aiming to boost your energy, think of it more like a marathon than a race. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Elizabeth Grace Saunders offers four tips for sustaining energy over the long term.

Along with standard advice like setting aside time for rest and recovery, Saunders recommends setting upper and lower boundaries for the work you need to do to advance toward a goal.

Say your team is working on a new product launch. As any entrepreneur knows, the timeframe for a launch can be months or even years. In order to maintain your momentum until the big day, you’d want to set a number of hours to dedicate to the product launch — the most you could do without burning out and the least to keep it moving forward, while still carving out time for your everyday tasks. So, maybe the upper boundary is three hours and the lower boundary is an hour. And if you tend to work like crazy in the beginning and then lose steam, or, on the contrary, procrastinate and then scramble at the end, you’d take that into account, too, to try to balance out the workload.

In the end, the goal is to accommodate, not totally override, your natural energy levels. And as Saunders writes, “The key to success at work and in life isn’t really starting strong, it’s staying strong.”

Create team rituals

According to Harvard Business Review, workload isn’t what leaves employees feeling depleted. Rather, it’s factors like lack of meaning and a sense of isolation. “Remote work has increased people’s sense of isolation, a particularly harmful source of energy depletion. Loneliness intensifies the stress of difficult challenges,” write authors Ron Carucci and Kathleen Hogan.

A straightforward way to overcome your or your employees’ loneliness is to create team rituals. Schedule weekly coffee breaks (online or in-person) where colleagues can chat about non-work topics like family or upcoming holidays. Host a regular trivia night. Launch a book club. Or, follow the example of one global communications firm and plan monthly Time to Connect to talk through recent (non-work) events.

These rituals cultivate a greater sense of connection between employees and leave them feeling energized — not to mention, they can be fun, too.

Transcend corporate silos

Companies have always faced the issue of corporate silos. Problems arise when the separate departments become so isolated that they pursue their own departmental goals above the common goals of the company. The uptick in remote work has only exacerbated the potential for silos. According to HBR, remote work has weakened cross-functional relationships by as much as 25%. They explain, “This can increase isolation and monotony, two energy-depleting experiences.”

So, how do you overcome silos and preserve your energy?

At Jotform, we work in cross-functional teams — usually a senior developer, front-end developer, back-end developer, designer, and CSS developer. Some teams also have a project or product manager. That prevents silos before they start forming — and does wonders for our teams’ engagement and creativity. HBR cites one company that started a “walk in their shoes” program,” wherein colleagues learn about each other’s jobs through weekly peer-mentoring sessions. When a new employee starts at Hive, the company asks two or three Hive employees from other teams to take them out to lunch.

When people interact across departments, they get a better sense of the bigger picture and are ultimately revitalized.

Focus more on outcomes — less on being‘on’

Author Anne Helen Petersen calls it “LARPing” — Live Action Role Playing. It’s the custom of trying to show how hard at work we are — by replying to every message away, holding unnecessary meetings, staying connected to Slack, arriving early, and staying late… even when it’s not necessary. Unsurprisingly, LARPing depletes our energy and leaves us with less energy to dedicate to our actual work.

In a recent conversation with Petersen, Future Forum Vice-President Sheela Subramanian explained, “Part of the problem is that nearly half of employees feel the need to show that they’re working in addition to their actual work.” That’s why Subramanian thinks that it’s critical to “focus on what are the outcomes that people need to deliver rather than always being on.”

What’s more, flexible scheduling can also curb employees’ tendency to LARP. Subramanian shared that while 80% of people want flexibility in where they work, about 94% want flexibility in when they work.

Allowing people to complete their work according to the schedule that suits them eliminates a standard schedule and alleviates the pressure to appear “on” at any time.

Taken together, these strategies — getting strategic sleep, maintaining energy, creating team rituals, transcending silos, and focusing on outcomes — will lead to better, rather than more, work.

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the bestselling author of Automate Your Busywork. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from Jotform users. You can reach Aytekin from his official website aytekintank.com.

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