In the recent Great Resignation, millions of people quit their jobs – and continue to do so. The reasons are complex but stem from frustrations that existed before the pandemic and piled up to a breaking point during 2020. People are tired and no longer willing to put up with poor support for work-life balance and wellbeing, especially those who may not be fairly compensated.

Workdays don’t have to be miserable.

Frustration, whatever the cause, goes deeper than what may be on the surface, says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist. In an article for Psychology Today, she relates that frustration speaks to a sense of stagnation or helplessness and an inability to change things. And, frustration comes with underlying feelings of discouragement, anger, fear, and anxiety.

What can employers do to help employees nearing their breaking points and avert more erosion of their workforce?

An excellent place to start dealing with employee frustration is recognising that it exists. The career experts at Kelly have pinpointed the following signs of frustration to look for:

  • Increased cynicism: employees challenge processes, methods, and meetings
  • Emotional outbursts: displays of anger, being upset, or otherwise emotional
  • Diminished input: employees become withdrawn and offer less input than usual
  • Conflict: employees develop problems with coworkers and withdraw from social interactions
  • Decreased productivity: frustrated employees have difficulty focusing

Looking to employee engagement tactics can be an excellent way to tackle frustration. When we talk about things like role clarity or support for employee development and removing obstacles, we’re talking about removing frustration.

There are many complex issues employers need to work through to resolve some employee frustrations, but there are some that should be easy to tackle. The following ideas will make the workday better for everyone – certainly less stressful – and require no extra budget.

Reduce non-essential meetings

According to Harvard Business Review, the number and length of work meetings have been increasing for decades. A study by Fellow, a meeting technology company, shows the average worker attends 11 to 15 meetings per week, and 31% of managers report attending 16+ meetings per week.

Add preparation time to actual meeting time, and it’s no wonder people end up working evenings and weekends to get work done.

Meetings reduce productivity by cutting into time that would otherwise be spent doing work and by frustrating workers who don’t see the clear value. They know they will have to give up personal time later to make up work time lost. In fact, 74% of people attending business meetings will multitask.

To resolve the meeting conundrum, start with a meeting-free day each week. Designate Monday or Friday as a productivity day so employees can work on their projects without interruptions.

Take it a step further and require justification for meetings and how long they will take – there should be a clear business benefit for taking people away from their work. Leaders can also empower employees to opt-out of some meetings.

Implement core hours 

The concept of core hours can make the workplace that embraces alternative scheduling work much more seamlessly. It’s a simple concept; there are core hours in a day during which everyone is available for meetings and collaboration.

Core hours remove the question of whether or not someone will be around – in the office or virtually – by effectively making collaboration time a little more scarce. It forces efficiency by reducing the likelihood of meetings that needlessly run too long.

That all sounds pretty good. However, as experienced by many companies that use core hours, there’s another positive element to this concept; non-core hours. Non-core hours are meeting free expanses of time in which employees can focus and get work done.

Stop weekend emails

We all know rested workers are better producers. Workers who know they have to respond to their bosses during non-work hours are carrying unnecessary stress and not getting needed rest. Leaders must be mindful of how their decision to put in a few hours of work on the weekend and fire off emails impacts others. It may feel great to get work done on Saturday afternoon or Sunday evening, but the result for everyone else is more stress and diminished wellbeing.

Does it mean you can’t choose to work on the weekend? Not at all, but set your emails to go out on Monday or save them as drafts. Quickly reviewing what you wrote on the weekend before sending it off on Monday morning is often a good idea.

Leaders should also explore whether those Sunday night sessions on their laptops are truly returning value, or just taking away from needed rest which will create more stressful weeks. A vicious cycle.

A British study of more than 23,000 workers shows both men and women have increased depressive symptoms associated with working weekends. Women also have increased depressive symptoms when working more than 55 hours per week.

A pattern of working evenings and weekends contributes to worse mental health for workers.

However, the challenge with any attempts to improve the workday is getting a commitment from employees – especially people managers – to respect new policies that require we all work differently. Old habits are hard to kill, but for the sake of the future of our workforce and all our wellbeing, we have to change practices that have proven detrimental to our mental health.

Reducing workday stress may not resolve all problems associated with why people are quitting their jobs, but it certainly will make the workday better for everyone, and that’s a big step.