Sleep has been tough to catch during the months since the COVID-19 pandemic started. I’ve spent many long nights fretting about the impact of the pandemic on my health and life and the new reality of working from home.
I’m still doing the “carpet commute,” but my anxious thoughts have gone in a different direction. Now, I wonder if I’m making enough progress at work and if my bosses think I’m contributing quality outcomes. I’m not alone on this front. Nearly three-quarters of my fellow Millennials have experienced more stress and anxiety at work this past year than any other year.
Often, this stress pushes us to work harder to show our worth. There is an assumption that Millennials (and Generation Zers) are scrolling through TikTok or watching Netflix instead of taking their job responsibilities seriously at home. Consequently, many workers in my generation feel the need to prove that we’re focused and completing projects on time, accurately, and to the best of our ability. We often go above and beyond to show management that we’re doing enough.
The proof that remote employees are productive is clear, however. A major Stanford University study found a 13% increase in productivity among people working from home compared to those working in offices over a nine-month period. The people working from home were also working for longer and doing more work each minute than those in the office.
There’s no doubt that the increased productivity that comes with working from home is good for our companies, but it’s causing many of us to burn out.
Why Are Millennial Workers Burnt Out?
Proving our productivity is taking a toll, and many Millennials are working harder than ever while at home. To combat the resulting burnout, we’re encouraged to take time off. However, when we want to take a break or a sick day, we worry that it will seem like we’re slacking off. Everyone knows the value of taking time away from work to clear your head and recharge. Still, I personally feel a sense of obligation to work beyond my hours to continue to prove my productivity — and I know many of my Millennial counterparts feel the same.
Ironically, though Millennials are stressed about working remotely, we’re more stressed that the opportunity to work remotely might disappear after the pandemic ends. We appreciate the flexibility and have become experts at managing our time appropriately. Having the flexibility to determine our work hours allows us to have a better work-life balance (especially now that we don’t have a long commute to the office).
Research shows 76% of employees would be more apt to stick with their current job if they were able to work flexible hours. What’s more, 69% of Millennials would be willing to forgo other benefits in exchange for a more flexible workplace. Working from home has given us the opportunity to really evaluate what is important to us.
In our personal lives, many Millennials (and Gen Zers) — 57% to be exact — have been forced to put off major milestones due to COVID-19. We’re experiencing big concerns about feeling like we need to postpone life events such as starting families, buying homes, pursuing higher education, and so much more. And our happiness and motivation are taking a hit as a result — even if it doesn’t appear that way at work.
How Can You Help Your Millennial Employees?
There has been a major shift in the way everyone works. And for the most part, it’s a good thing for employers and employees. But Millennials are feeling stressed and burnt out right now for a number of reasons. As a business leader, you can help the young people on your team rest easier — with fewer stressors keeping them up at night — with these strategies:
1. Offer workers generous PTO policies.
Paid time off historically has been connected with time spent in a role. A person had to work at a company for a specific number of years before getting more vacation time. Many businesses have eliminated this link between years served and days off to the benefit of their workers. The reason is simple: All employees (minus some outliers) work equally hard regardless of whether they’ve been on the payroll for 10 months or 10 years.
A more modern solution is to offer all team members the same amount of general PTO without designating hours into buckets, such as sick days and personal days. Trust your employees. Another idea is to offer employees the ability to work remotely from anywhere — not just from home. After making changes to your policies, be sure to encourage employees to use their time as needed, and not just when they’re physically sick or on vacation. Most people (not just Millennials) often feel guilty about taking time off to give ourselves a break, even though that time is ours to use.
2. Be mindful of everyone’s working hours.
A well-reported problem that happened when everyone began working remotely was that no one seemed to know when workdays began or ended. This led employees to feel pressure to respond immediately to emails, texts, and calls, including late at night or early in the morning. In other words, we felt like we were at work 24/7. Talk about being on the road toward burnout!
The way around this is to help your Millennial employees set expectations with you, their co-workers, and other stakeholders (like clients and customers). When your employees have signed off for the day, don’t expect them to respond to messages. That’s a surefire way to make employees feel like you don’t believe they’re working hard enough — even though they are during normal hours.
3. Surprise employees with unexpected perks.
You’ve probably said “thank you” a million times to your team throughout the past year. Nevertheless, you can always do a little more to show your gratitude, such as sending out extra perks to make everyone feel recognized and appreciated.
Surprise your team with a day off, or even a few hours off. Mail or email everyone a gift card for a local shop or restaurant. Order at-home lunch delivery for everyone in your office — even those who are still working from home. Your generosity will let your employees know that you empathize with their situations and want to help them stay happy and reach a better work-life balance.
4. Update your remote work policies.
For a long time, workers across numerous industries have clamored for more flexible and contemporary telecommuting policies. It wasn’t until COVID-19 that remote work went into overdrive. As mentioned, Millennials particularly like the idea of being able to work where they want, when they want.
Consider regularly reevaluating and communicating your policies to reflect current workflows, even after the need for working remotely ends. In addition to updating your work-from-home policy, you might even want to consider putting together revised policies on maternity leave, employee benefits, stipends for internet and supplies, and even 401(k) and retirement options to reflect the new world we live in — not the pre-pandemic world.
Millennials have proven that we’re a thoughtful, trustworthy, resilient bunch who are able to be productive inside the office and out of it. The time has never been better to show that not only the Millennials, but also all employees in your company that you don’t just talk the talk when you say that you want to support them during this time and beyond — you walk the walk, too. In return, they’ll be more likely to continue making your business a standout and become your biggest cheerleaders … and hopefully your most well-rested ones, too.