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Preventing an Always on Culture and Meeting Burnout

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, many of our colleagues are currently working from home or splitting their time between home and on campus. In addition, some colleagues are working unusual patterns outside of their traditional working hours to balance their work and home responsibilities. This hybrid approach to work means there have been changes to how we communicate and interact, with the majority of meetings taking place online via Zoom, Teams or some other online platform. In addition, we are sending more emails, and these are often sent outside of traditional working hours.

These changes to how we work may create an ‘always on’ working culture which means added stress and workload for colleagues through back-to-back online meetings or for those who feel pressured to continually check for emails and respond to these as they are received. Feedback provided via the Staff Pulse Survey 2021 and the QGI COVID-19 Lockdown Survey highlighted the impact of working during lockdown on workload and wellbeing.

We want to avoid adopting working practices that can have a negative impact on our workplace culture and instead ensure our colleagues remain well connected and productive while prioritising their health and wellbeing and reducing the likelihood of burnout and fatigue. You will find tips and guidelines below about good meeting and email practice. It is recommended that all teams and colleagues across Queen’s review these guidelines and have a discussion within your team about what works best for you. Our leaders and managers are encouraged to champion this approach to work, leading by example and modelling responsible working practices and culture.

  • Reducing the Burden of Online Meetings

    Meeting online via Teams, Zoom and other platforms are a significant part of hybrid working and vital to maintain our connectivity and productivity. However, it is important to ensure these meetings are purposeful and to avoid burnout from too much time spent in meetings online. The following tips are designed to help you plan your meetings in the most effective way while protecting the wellbeing of you and your colleagues.

    • Aim for some protected free time each day to allow a lunch break and some time away from your desk.
    • Consider the timing of the meeting and only put in as much time as is required. Try to schedule gaps in between meetings to avoid a back-to-back schedule. A meeting should never be scheduled for longer than necessary. If a long meeting is unavoidable, schedule a break.
    • Try to end meetings 5 minutes before the hour to build in time for a quick break for those in back-to-back meetings.
    • Always consider whether or not a meeting is really necessary or could other options be used. Only invite those who need to attend and where possible share an Agenda in advance so participants can join for the relevant parts of the meeting only.
    • Encourage participants to turn cameras on for at least the first few minutes to say hello and acknowledge others on the call.
    • Equally, during long meetings, ensure participants are aware they can switch their camera off if preferable. This allows some time ‘off screen’ to reduce pressure and allow participants to get up and walk around the room.
    • Sometimes a video meeting is not necessary. If there are only a few people in the meeting you could schedule a voice call. This also gives you the option for a walking meeting and some time away from your desk.

  • Email Guidelines

    Emails are an essential part of how we communicate and share information. However, it is important to remind colleagues that email should never be used in the case of urgent or time-sensitive communication. This treats email as a “synchronous” communication channel and it can never be that. No one is capable of monitoring every message in real time, and to attempt it is an exercise in futility and a sure path to stress, overload, and eventually, burnout. Instead, follow the tips below to make emails work effectively for you and your colleagues without adding to your workload or stress.

    • Agree clear ‘communication hours’ within teams. For example, 8.00am – 6.00pm. All colleagues should aim to only send emails during these hours where possible. For example, agreeing 8.00am – 6.00pm as typical professional working hours. All colleagues should aim to only send emails during these hours where possible, bearing in mind the typical working day is 7.5 hours and there is no standard expectation that anyone should work beyond this except in exceptional circumstances.
    • Staff should be encouraged to change their settings to “Do Not Disturb” when they are not working or when they need some quiet time during working hours for either a break or to focus on their work without interruption.
    • Staff should use the “Delay Delivery” feature of Outlook to schedule delivery within communication hours. Any correspondence that must happen outside of the set communication hours, such as for urgent or time-sensitive issues, should be made by phone or text only. This way staff can comfortably close all other communication channels like email and Teams.
    • Use a short informative email auto signature.

    Remove pressure on staff to respond to emails received outside their normal working hours by adding an email auto-signature that informs the recipient of the senders’ working pattern and highlights that a reply is not expected immediately. Examples include:

    • Please note that any email received from me outside working hours does not require a response at this time.
    • I am currently working from home as normal but may need to send messages or replies outside usual working hours and do not expect an immediate response.
    • I do not expect you to respond to my email outside your working hours. We value and encourage flexible working patterns, so please be assured that I respect your working pattern and I am looking forward to your response when you are next working.
    • Please note that, I am currently working remotely. My preferred method of contact is email / Microsoft Teams / phone.
    • My working hours are XXX, I will aim to respond to your email during these hours.

  • Choosing How you Communicate

    Choosing the right communication medium can help to ensure productivity while promoting positive working practices. Please refer to the guidelines below to help you choose the right way to communicate at different times.

    Communication Plan – Communication Hours 8am - 6pm

    Type of Communication During Communication Hours Outside Communication Hours
    Email Routine requests, information sharing Hold or use “Delay Delivery”
    Teams Project-related communication, socialising Set to “Do Not Disturb”
    Phone, video calls Relationship-building, sensitive or complex topics Time sensitive or urgent only
    Text Message Time sensitive or urgent only Time sensitive or urgent only