The 'new' daily working life is exhausting our professionals

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the office routine has drastically changed for many employees. Today, many professionals feel exhausted and frustrated. But what exactly has caused this situation?

The "new" work routine – it has been existing since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and leaves employees tired and exhausted today. How has the work routine changed and what has led to this state of mental exhaustion?


The 'new' daily working life after the pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the work routine of professionals: Many have been regularly working from home since then, without physical contact with colleagues and supervisors. Additionally, they spend significantly more time in digital meetings: Compared to pre-pandemic times, there has been an increase of up to 300%. The working life has changed, and so has the way employees deal with the altered conditions. Trends can be observed in hindsight.


Initially, there was the so-called 'Great Resignation.' Due to months-long closures in some sectors due to COVID regulations, such as in the hospitality industry, many employees sought new jobs. Others deliberately turned their backs on their previous industry and sought work in another sector that seemed safer and more crisis resistant.


After the COVID regulations were eased in 2021, there was a phase referred to as 'Remote-Work Wars.' It refers to the defense of the right to work from home by many employees. Employers who viewed remote work as only a temporary measure were surprised when their employees claimed it as their right. Tense situations arose, which resulted in a perceived peace with hybrid work models. The struggle for the right to work from home and the unbalanced work atmosphere caused doubts, dissatisfaction, and exhaustion among employees.


In the summer of 2023, something called 'Quiet Quitting' followed. The employee was dissatisfied with their work or the conditions and showed less and less engagement or initiative in their tasks. From the outside, it appeared as if they were no longer working in the service of their employer.


Since the end of 2023, many professionals have been in a state of complete mental exhaustion. The 'Great Resignation' has evolved into the 'Great Exhaustion.' During the 'Remote-Work Wars' phase, they fought for the right to work from home, but now they find themselves not balanced but tired and exhausted. It seems there is something else causing the employees' exhaustion. What role do communication tools like email programs, chats, and video conferences play?


How does digital communication affect us?


One of the significant changes in the new work routine involves the intensive use of digital communication tools such as email, chat, and video conferences. Especially in the early weeks of the pandemic, platforms like Zoom and Slack provided a kind of lifeline. However, even as the working life returned to a more stable rhythm and more time was spent in physical offices again, the volume of digital communication remained high.


The numbers speak for themselves: A report by Microsoft found that Microsoft users now spend almost 60 percent of their time on digital communication tools - email, chat, and video conferences - while only 40 percent is spent on creation, i.e., working with software like Word. One in four surveyed employees spent almost an entire workday per week solely going through emails. Additionally, there is the time spent on discussions in chats and other digital meetings.


Studies show a connection between increased digital communication and a decrease in satisfaction: High demands on digital communication correlated with poor health outcomes. Similarly, experiments found that the stress levels of professionals increased the longer they dealt with emails.


The consequence of this communication overload is a constant interruption of attention and a feeling of mental exhaustion. Many employees complain that they have too little uninterrupted focus time during their workday. This flood of digital communication also blurs the line between work and personal life. When the inbox grows faster than one can keep up with, it becomes challenging to unwind and recover after work. The pressure to catch up on unfinished tasks remains even after shutting down the computer.


The need for reforms


If the state of exhaustion among employees is to be improved, action must be taken. One possible initial measure is for companies to establish new policies. For example, it could be decided that emails may only be used for disseminating information and for questions that can be clarified with a single response. This would mean that fundamental issues would have to be discussed in person.


To prevent an explosion of new meetings, office hours could be introduced during which each employee is available daily for personal, digital, or phone conversations without an appointment. Discussions expected to last fifteen minutes or less should be held during these office hours to keep the number of meetings low and free employees from endless email discussions.


For those expecting immediate reactions, waiting for a response may seem inefficient. However, those who have tried this model found that it can lead to better time management for everyone. They report that waiting is usually not a significant issue. The time and control gained are enormous.


But where do instant messaging services like Slack and Microsoft Teams fit in? The need to constantly monitor ongoing chats can be even more disruptive and distracting than frequent emails and meetings. These tools may seem inevitable – but are they really?


The e-commerce company Convictional made the decision to completely abolish chat services. In a 2021 interview, Roger Kirkness, the company's CEO, explained that this decision was a response to employees' frustration with interruptions from Slack and meetings. According to Kirkness, the best results come when employees can work undisturbed and focused.


Bring about change together


Professionals should communicate problems and concerns with their employers. Only when challenges are openly addressed, it is possible, to define steps together that ideally lead to improvement.


On the one hand, employers must recognize the urgency of the situation and take concrete actions to improve working conditions. This could include promoting an open communication culture and creating a positive work environment. On the other hand, employees must use their voices. By engaging in open conversations about problems and working together to find solutions, they can actively work towards creating a healthier work environment.


At LHH, we know and understand the challenges of your industry. With our expertise and years of experience, we help you find qualified professionals and retain them long-term. Contact one of our career experts now!