Battling COVID-19 work burnout

Ron Friedman, Social Psychologist & 'Decoding Greatness' author joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss work burnout amid COVID-19.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Be back by Labor Day, or we will have a different kind of conversation. That stern message from Morgan Stanley's CEO James Gorman got a lot of people talking on Wall Street earlier this week. And it comes as a lot of businesses sort of try to struggle with the right environment, as more and more people return to the office after working from home for the last 18 months or so.

Let's talk more about some of those challenges. Let's bring in Ron Friedman, social psychologist and the author of "Decoding Greatness." And Ron, you have said that burnout has been a pandemic within a pandemic. I thought this discussion was really interesting because if part of the challenge has been working from home, not being able to create the line between work and personal, you'd think that a lot more people would want to return to work. How do you think companies are thinking about all of this?

RON FRIEDMAN: Well, the way they should be thinking about it is caring for the entire employee, not just the sliver of them that shows up between the hours of 9:00 to 5:00. And what we know from the research is that when you take care of the entire employee by fulfilling their basic human psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, they tend to be more productive. So this is something that should be top of mind for any leader hoping to motivate their staff.

ZACK GUZMAN: Hey, to Akiko's point, I mean, you would expect people to be more excited about it. But I feel like the office isn't going to be the same once we do go back because you might have fewer people working there. It might not have the same life to it. I mean, how have you been telling people to manage their stress through all of this work from home and whether or not they're really ready to go back into the office?

RON FRIEDMAN: It's quite natural to feel burnt out right now. And it's because of the decimation between work and life boundaries and the fact that we're all juggling our kids on top of our basic work responsibilities. And one of the things that's critical to think about when we think about burnout is what's the definition?

Well, first of all, the definition of burnout is when the requirements of your tasks consistently outstrip the amount of energy you have available. And so from that formulation, there's really two ways of alleviating burnout. One is to reduce the demands of your work, which is really hard to do for a lot of people. In fact, one of the tragic things that happens when you try to work less, is you try to squeeze in more in less time. And that actually elevates your stress.

So a better approach, one that I've been arguing in my book, "Decoding Greatness" is that, by learning more, not working less, learning more, you can actually increase your energy. And it's because you get that mood boost when you learn new things. You increase your confidence. And you're fulfilling your basic psychological need for growth.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. It does feel like when you start thinking about the stress, that sometimes adds more to the stress. But this is something-- when we talk about, especially mental health issues that have popped up, that have become more and more at the forefront of these discussions over the pandemic, something that a lot of HR divisions, I imagine, will have to deal with even if workers return to the office. How do you think that conversation has shifted within companies?

RON FRIEDMAN: Well, I think there's been a realization amongst a lot of workplaces that it's not just about the work, that if you are looking to fulfill basic human psychological needs, you actually need to go further by addressing people's biological needs. And those needs have been satisfied, ironically, over the last few months and last year better than they had been in generations. And it's because people are taking naps during the workday.

They're going out for walks. They're having they're having the ability to focus in a way that just isn't available to them in the office. And I'm heartened by the fact that I think more organizations are aware of those biological needs. And it's because leaders have been working from home themselves and seeing the benefits of taking naps, of taking walks, of being able to focus. And I think we're going to see a revolution in the way that organizations operate.

AKIKO FUJITA: Ron Friedman, social psychologist and author of "Decoding Greatness," good to talk to you today.

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