7 burnout prevention tips for your “Return To Office” playbook

The “Great Return” calls millions of employees back to the office, at least partially. Some companies, like Netflix and Goldman Sachs, are staying true to their office-first roots. Others, like Square and Deloitte, are going full remote-first. The vast majority of companies are compromising on a hybrid approach. Microsoft is pursuing a 50–50 strategy, where workers are expected to spend half their time in the office. Salesforce is asking for 1–3 days a week in-office from its employees. There’s no one-size-fits all approach, but there are a few best practices that all teams should consider before asking their teams to return to the brick and mortar.

  1. Consider a DEIB lens

Returning to the offices has different implications for various identity groups, and traditional office norms may be more comfortable for some. That’s why thinking through Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) in advance of implementing new policies is key. For people of color, for example, more time at the office may also mean more exposure to microaggressions. Women are all too familiar with bringing space heaters and sweaters to the office. That’s because office temperatures were designed for men in suits. As you develop your playbook, make sure to consult a diverse set of stakeholders (e.g. employee resource groups, neurodiverse communities, parents, veterans groups, body diversity advocates, etc.) to ensure that the policies are responsive to all groups. Add explicit language to provide visibility into how inclusion is integrated across your return to office (RTO) policies.

2. Create clear boundaries between work time and non-work time

Research indicates that ensuring employees are able to achieve cognitive, emotional, and physical distance from work can restore psychological resources and prevent burnout. Hybrid models and remote work provide less physical separation between work and home life, leading to an “always on” culture. While it’s tempting for companies to take advantage of this, they’ll soon find that 24/7 connectedness can lead to attrition and burnout. Instead, provide explicit guidelines on when your team is expected to be online, and when they can comfortably disconnect. Should employees be answering emails after 8 PM? Should teams check Slack on weekends? Encourage the use of practices like “schedule send” for teams across time zones or email batching. Create clear norms, and ensure managers are modeling them. Support managers with professional development and clear expectations to set everyone up for success.

3. Be intentional with in-office time

The most recent trend in memes depicts frustrated workers struggling through their morning commute only to find themselves back on Zoom at the office. If you’re asking your team to make the schlep back into the office, make sure to make it worth their while. What are the resources that only in-person time can provide? Brainstorming, collaboration, team-building, and strategic planning are better done in-person compared to Zoom. Think through your workflows and consider: What can best be accomplished in-person?

4. Proactively plan breaks

There are different types of breaks. Born out of the shift to remote work, the 5-minute “bio break” has become popular among virtual employees (e.g. ending a meeting at :55 or starting at :05). Then there are daily breaks, when folks end their work days and (hopefully) make time for sleep, exercise, nutritious eating, and community building. Many companies have instituted monthly wellness days, or company-wide days off. Capital One, for example, offers “invest in yourself” days. Bigger breaks take the form of vacations and sabbaticals. Consider instituting norms around ramping back up post-vacation, where employees have 1–2 days to play catch up after coming back from a break. While all of these breaks are part of the status quo, we recommend going a step further and providing resources (money, time) for employees to take High Quality Time-Off once each month. This means encouraging your team to get emotional, cognitive, and physical distance from work. Our initial results indicate a 46% reduction in burnout symptoms.

5. Forget virtual team building; Consider synchronous, remote team building

Let us be clear: absolutely no one wants another virtual happy hour. These were overdone in 2020, and we’re all still recovering. The next phase of team building is remote, synchronous experiences. This looks like:

● Your team receives a 60 min calendar invite for a “team hike”

● Team members are encouraged to go for an outdoor walk in their own communities

● People share pics and reflections on Slack

You can go even further, giving folks money to go to lunch, a museum, or their local botanical garden. Want ideas? Check out our suggestions on cultiveit.io. If employees have team members nearby, they can link up, or they can do these individually with their families. There are no rules, just best practices that work for your team.

6. L&D on new work practices

Now is not the time to slash your Learning and Development (L&D) budget. With the switch to hybrid work representing tectonic shifts in workplace culture for most companies, your team needs guidance on how to lead in this new environment. 92% of employees think access to professional development training is important for their career development. Some hot topics for RTO training include burnout prevention, well-being, productivity, DEIB, remote collaboration and distributed team-building. Investing in timely, relevant, research-based professional development opportunities will help ensure your team has the tools and frameworks to succeed in this new environment.

7. Use data to drive decision-making

Less time spent in-person means less time for informal interactions and qualitative feedback. Increase the frequency and quality of gathering input on how things are going. While the way this happens will vary company to company, a few options include: shifting from an annual to a quarterly engagement survey, incorporating weekly pulse checks, regular check-ins with employee resource groups or RTO taskforce members, and focus groups for particularly difficult questions. You need lots of data to determine what aspects of your playbook are working and not working. We love Culture Amp and 15Five, which have tons of resources on what metrics to prioritize, questions to ask, and more.

Need help? We’re here for you.

Cultiveit is a B2B wellness platform helping teams prevent burnout. Founded at UC Berkeley, our team leverages the latest burnout prevention research to help teams achieve sustainable peak performance. Book a 15 mins. consultation with our team. We offer L&D sessions, consulting, high quality monthly breaks, and more. Visit us at cultiveit.io/employers, book some time on our cal, or email us at hello@cultiveit.io



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Yannell is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cultiveit. Passion areas include: people management, tech, social impact, and start-ups.