Sheryl Sandberg warns coronavirus burnout will cost employers

Facebook COO's organization: Only 40% of say their companies have made working from home more flexible during COVID-19

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Companies must do their part to help parents and caregivers working from home avoid burnout, new research suggests.

Only 40 percent of workers say their companies have taken steps to increase work-from-home flexibility since the coronavirus pandemic began, a reality that has been increasingly challenging for women, according to recent surveys by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey.

"We know companies are under tremendous financial pressure during this economic downturn, but helping their teams avoid burnout and illness needs to be a priority," Sheryl Sandberg wrote. 

“Employers must work to relieve this stress. We know companies are under tremendous financial pressure during this economic downturn, but helping their teams avoid burnout and illness needs to be a priority,” Sandberg wrote in an op-ed for Fortune on Thursday, adding that it will pay off productivity-wise in the long run. “That is how they’ll get the best out of their employees amid all this disruption and retain those workers when the crisis is over.”

Fewer than 20 percent of workers say their company has reassessed goals set before the virus broke out or nixed low-priority tasks, according to the survey, which has proven to be a major challenge for caregivers balancing work and home life.

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Thirty-one percent of women working full-time jobs with families surveyed say they now have even more on their plate with homeschooling their kids on top of their own jobs and/or caring for sick or elderly relatives, compared with 13 percent of working men with families who said the same.

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“Our research indicates that this disparity is not because men are simply shouldering equally heavy burdens with greater ease. Instead, women are disproportionately feeling overwhelmed because they are disproportionately the ones working day and night to keep households afloat,” Sandberg wrote.

Sandberg urged that the responsibility to support workers must also be addressed at the national level, with paid leave, a higher minimum wage, and affordable child care.

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The "Lean In" author and social media executive went on to note Facebook's work policies in the new normal, explaining that the tech company suspended its usual performance ratings and will give employees bonuses as if they exceeded expectations during the first half of the year.  The company also created an extended child care benefit and new leave options for caregivers. Managers were also allowed to reorganize priorities on a "case-by-case basis," she wrote.

"We know companies are under tremendous financial pressure during this economic downturn, but helping their teams avoid burnout and illness needs to be a priority," 

- Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO 

"Not every employer can or should follow these exact steps, but finding ways to lighten your employees’ loads can make a big difference," Sandberg wrote.

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Separate research has shown that employee burnout can lead to lost productivity amounting to between $125 billion and $190 billion a year in health care costs as researchers estimate that work-induced stress makes up 8 percent of national spending on health care, according to the Harvard Business Review.

And those costs could surge, considering the average workday for employees working from home in the United States went from eight hours to 11 hours a day, a 40 percent increase and the biggest jump compared to any other nation, according to data from digital privacy company NordVPN.

Philanthropist Melinda Gates has also spoken out recently, exposing the "broken caregiving system in the U.S.," noting that the country is the only industrialized nation that does not have paid family or sick leave.

She's calling on Congress to support a paid medical and family leave plan and how it could play a major role in restarting the economy.

“To ensure a fast and inclusive recovery, governments, business leaders and investors need to make caregiving a priority," Gates wrote in the Washington Post on Thursday.

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