How to cure "always on" staff burnout? Take a leaf out of nineteenth-century Cadbury's book

Chris Baker
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Cadbury Eggs
Cadbury embraced the change that industrialisation brought with it and offered up free education and housing – modern companies should find inspiration in this (Source: Getty)

The modern workforce has become accustomed to putting in long hours. Created by years of employment uncertainty, born out of the 2008 financial crisis, and fuelled recently by the great unknown of a looming Brexit, “presenteeism” has become a mainstay of the British employee.

Research last week by Concur shows that, thanks to the rise of the internet and mobile connectivity, Britain has shifted towards being an “on-the-go economy”, a phenomenon which encompasses the social and economic change that has been created by constant waves of technological advances.

Look around the pub on a Thursday night and you’ll see scores of people still working from their mobiles. It’s a characteristic of the time we live in. One where the blurring of personal and professional spheres means people are always on, multitasking to make the most of their time.

Tech has, and always will be the heartbeat of industry, but in today’s world, the ongoing reliance on it for workplace communications means many people feel they need to be available 24/7.

This has the potential to create a time-pressured environment where busyness is worn as a badge of honour and employee burnout becomes commonplace.

A modern-day Bournville?

While employees work harder and longer than ever, the businesses they work for find themselves at a precarious junction. Yes, a hard-grafting workforce is beneficial, but a tired, potentially resentful one is not. Employers must lead from the front and enable their staff to find the right balance.

Lessons could be learnt from another time when social and professional lines became blurred – the nineteenth century and Bournville in particular.

Cadbury embraced the change that industrialisation brought with it and offered up free education and housing. Modern companies should find inspiration in this and embrace the new way that employees want – and increasingly expect – to work.

Read more: Plato, Machiavelli and Aristotle: The Philosopher Kings of business

Giving time back, without question, to those who constantly work late is critical. Allowing them to go to the gym or spend time with their families during regular hours not only empowers staff, but also makes them more productive in their roles. It’s the modern equivalent of the stable, secure family life provided by Cadbury’s over a hundred years ago and should be adopted by all businesses, not just trendy Silicon Valley startups.

Technology for the good

While tech has played a role in creating the always-on worker, it can go a distance to make them more efficient as well. We use it every day to enhance our personal lives without question, and the same attitude should be adopted by businesses.

Read more: Seven ways that pressure can help you at work

In the on-the-go economy, time has real value, both economically and physically. Employees, especially the younger generations, expect the work environment they enter to provide them with the very latest apps that will enhance the high value activities they carry out. As such, it’s vital that employers provide the tools that enable workers to help them minimise the more mundane tasks and focus on the creative and valuable ones.

The retail and financial services sectors have been fantastic in providing this at a consumer level and, with similar enterprise grade software increasingly mirroring apps such as Deliveroo or Uber, there’s no shortage of offerings to choose from.

The on-the-go economy is here to stay. Businesses at every level must keep up and ensure they are powered by services and technologies that provide the workforce with what they need before they know they need it. Add a dose of unquestioned flexibility and a productive and happy workforce will flourish.

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