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December 6, 2023

The End of Burnout Culture: 6 Ways to Step Up When Motivation Is Down

a sad employee holding a sign of another sad employee

Are your employees asleep at the wheel? Or are trends like the “lazy girl job” and quiet quitting an organic reaction to decades of burnout culture?

Today, less than a third of employees feel excited and energized at work. As the new generation of workers takes the reins, employers need to decide what the future of work looks like — specifically, when it comes to work-life balance.

It’s time to ask: Is going above and beyond more important than everything else? Or is it okay for employees to clock in, do the job, and call it a day?

In this article, we’re unpacking the latest conversation surrounding employee motivation and sharing tips to help you set the right expectations for your business.

6 ways to motivate your employees

  1. Build flexibility into the job description
  2. Respect employees’ free time
  3. Encourage employees to utilize their vacation days
  4. Offer sick days to prevent presenteeism
  5. Prioritize output over hours worked
  6. Provide mental health support

The “lazy girl” job, explained

From opaque expectations to the “cult of overwork”, there’s no single reason employee engagement is down. It’s more of a cocktail of dissatisfaction, disconnection, and of course, burnout.

And if there’s one trend that speaks to all of these swirling concerns, it’s the “lazy girl job”.

The term “lazy girl job” describes jobs with a healthy salary, satisfactory benefits, and a regular 9-5 work schedule — with no expectation for unpaid overtime. Rather than romanticizing a rise-and-grind mentality, this trend spotlights jobs where an employee can get their work done in 40 hours a week, without sacrificing their personal life.

“The whole lazy girl job trend is essentially just understanding what you’re actually being told to do and being able to hold good work life balance boundaries in the workplace,” says Gabrielle Judge, the corporate influencer who coined the term.

As with quiet quitting and so many buzzwords before it, the so-called “lazy girl job” was initially perceived by many employers as merely an excuse to coast. But lately, HR leaders are asking: 

What if what we’ve labeled as “laziness” is actually just…healthy boundaries that prevent chronic workplace stress?

According to leadership strategist Dan Pontefract, the strategic disengagement we’re seeing from employees is simply a natural reaction to overwork.

While many businesses outwardly advocate for work-life balance, most don’t have the structures in place to reinforce either the “life” or “balance” part of the equation. This lack of support systems leads to long hours, anxiety, stress, and chronic disengagement.

According to one study, nearly half of workers who report decreased mental health are also overworked, logging over 50 hours per week. So, how can you help your company break free of burnout culture, while still getting the job done to the highest possible standard?

6 ways to lose lazy, beat burnout, and motivate your employees

Trends like “lazy girl jobs” aren’t just sexist social media fads — they’re signals that employers need to re-examine their job role design, paid time off (PTO) policies, and employer value prop.

Here are some ways to clarify your expectations, setting boundaries that make good on the promise of a healthy work-life balance.

1. Build flexibility into the job description

The great return to work reshuffle and rise in remote workers have prompted workers to take a more critical look at how they spend their time.

During the covid-19 pandemic lockdown, employees discovered they could get their work done, often in a fraction of the time, without being confined to the cubicle. Now that they've begun returning to the office, many workers are actively looking for ways to preserve that autonomy.

In 2024, employers that don’t offer the job flexibility of remote work risk losing talent.

Take Grindr, for example. Rowan Rosenthal, a Grindr employee of almost three years, lives less than 30 minutes away from the company’s Brooklyn office. However, because their department is based in Los Angeles, they were given the option to either relocate to California and work in-office, or quit. Despite the promise of relocation assistance, this ultimatum led Rowan (and a whopping 45% of the rest of Grindr’s workforce) to resign.

For many employees, the happy medium is often a role that leverages technology and creativity, while pushing back against the classic 9-5.

Look for ways to build flexibility into your roles by offering flexible work hours, remote or hybrid work options, or opportunities for solo problem-solving instead of face-to-face meetings.

2. Respect employees’ free time

If you want your employees to stay tuned in, you need to help them unplug.

From the endless ping of Slack and Teams chats to never-ending email chains, after-hours messages create an always-on culture that can generate high pressure and high amounts of employee stress.

“You can very easily just be ‘on’ from the moment you get up until you go to bed,” says Grant Duncan, managing director of Korn Ferry’s media entertainment and digital business EMEA sector. “I am sure that it is related to burnout.”

It’s not as easy as telling employees to not check their emails after they log off. When employees see their manager or teammates working after hours, they often feel like they should be available too, leading to a vicious cycle of burnout and low-quality work.

To crack down on after-hours communication, implement a policy that cuts off company messaging at a certain time. Remind managers that project updates can almost always wait until the next day, and encourage team members to take a well-needed brain break for better performance when they’re on the clock.

3. Encourage employees to utilize their vacation days

Put the “life” back into work-life balance by offering employees generous vacation time. Then, once the policy is in place, encourage team members to actually take those days off.

According to one study, nearly 46% of US workers don’t use all their paid time off. Instead, they keep their nose to the grindstone to avoid falling behind or inconveniencing their coworkers. In the short term, this might feel like it makes sense. But over time, chronic overwork can harm your employees’ health and productivity.

Actively encourage employees to take their vacation time. And when they do, make sure you have the right team and communication policies in place so that they’re able to truly unplug.

This may mean instructing employees to snooze or disable push notifications while out of office, or designating a trusted teammate to temporarily take over any urgent tasks while another team member is out.

4. Offer sick days to prevent presenteeism

As wonderful as work-from-home (WFH) can be, it can also make it difficult for employees to take time off when ill. The temptation to “power through” and work from bed is real.

Employees may think they’re not “sick enough” to take time off, but by not taking a day to rest and recuperate, a sniffle can turn into an ongoing issue that causes even more days out down the road.

To promote employee health, prevent burnout, and ensure employee productivity, make sure you’re offering sufficient sick days and encouraging employees to take them as needed. 

If possible, offer separate vacation and sick days to discourage employees from working while sick in order to “save up” for a longer vacation. If your company has a more general lump sum PTO program, consider increasing the number of hours so employees know they can take time off when sick, without it eating into their holidays.

5. Prioritize output over hours worked

A cornerstone of the lazy girl job movement is the results-driven mindset. 

A result-driven culture cares more about getting the job done right, rather than how long it takes.

“No one in a ‘lazy girl job’ is actually lazy,” explains one TikToker with a flexible remote job. “At the end of the day, people in remote, well-paying jobs that take care of them are producing good results. Otherwise, they’re not going to stay in those jobs.”

To create an outcome-focused environment, minimize the micromanagement and shift to a productivity mindset backed by clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs).

Remember, to win with this approach, it’s all about tracking outcomes rather than chair time.

6. Provide mental health support

Employee health is about more than having a preferred provider organization (PPO). 

It’s about nurturing an employee's emotional well-being by respecting their personal boundaries and offering robust mental health support when needed.

Start by including mental health coverage as part of your healthcare plan, so employees can take advantage of in-network mental health professionals if they choose to. 

It won’t happen overnight, but with the right commitment, you can create a culture of openness and communication via your employee newsletter, mental health workshops, or even fully-funded gym or yoga studio memberships.

“Lazy” never looked so productive

No matter how driven an employee is, the truth is human motivation will always ebb and flow. By recognizing that work is a part of life, rather than the end-all-be-all, you can drive productivity in a way that feels organic for everyone.

It’s all about taking small steps today to create a work environment where employees can thrive, and rest when necessary.

Ready to make your workplace the best it can be? Explore Breezy’s Hire Learning library for HR templates, resources, guides, and so much more.