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Since the pandemic began in 2020, many organizations have had to adapt quickly to rapidly changing work environments coupled with new technologies.  This sudden burst of innovation, and adaptation has created tremendous stressors on employees and business leaders alike.  Technology overload and always-on cultures have created an increase in the phenomenon of employee brownouts.  In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what is employee brownout, how to spot it, and ways that technology can actually help.   Let’s explore this further.

Employee Brownout

Michael E. Kibler brought the topic of employee brownout to light in 2015.  In the Harvard Business Review article he authored, Kibler noted some important characteristics of brown out employees – summarized below:

  1. Brownout employees may not be in obvious crisis,
  2. Brownout employees may seem to be performing fine – putting in long hours and saying all the right things.

However, Kibler notes that these brownout employees may be at highest risk for leaving their jobs.  They may be feeling drained from continuous 24/7 obligations, suffering deterioration of health, atrophy of personal interests, and a decline in their personal relationships.  Old school executives may say this is just part of the job, but today’s progressive organizations realize there are much bigger risks at stake.

By the time most ‘old school’ businesses take notice of a brownout employee – they already have one foot out the door.  Instead, Kibler suggests that companies provide a new way to engage employees, called ‘active partnering.’  This can be immensely beneficial to the overall culture and extremely helpful in keeping employees engaged and purpose driven.

Unplugging:  How Technology Can Help

When we talk about unplugging from work, it may be surprising that technology can support purpose-driven initiatives.  Here are some ways that technology can help:

  • Automated Time Zones & Delayed Sends– this provides an employee in New York the ability to send a message to an employee in Los Angeles with an automated delayed send so that the employee in LA won’t get the message until their workday begins. No more 3 am message or email notifications.
  • Message List & Responses – Auto responders to IMs, Texts and email that allow an employee to unplug from work and step away from alerts.
  • Companies can enact a “Workout Wednesday” program providing dedicated unplugged hours for workout routines. Stats, hours, and performance can be posted to an employee platform for team competitions and to encourage participation.
  • Many companies are promoting a “Giving Back Day” where an organization sets aside an afternoon once a month dedicated to supporting community organizations. The activities or organizations can be autonomous or team centric.  Photos can be shared in the company newsletter or on a company virtual bulletin board.
  • Many health care insurers provide apps and technology to spotlight employee health initiatives. Data may be aggregated to show the overall health improvement of the organization.

The point here is that technology can support this initiative and employees should be empowered to unplug from work.  When employees get away from their laptops, phones, and responsibilities, they may achieve a healthier work-life integration which can lead to more productivity and purposeful lives.  Now that’s a concept everyone can agree on!

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