Frank Pathyil: Technology’s Role in Reducing Burnout
Over the many years Frank Pathyil has spent in the intranet/digital workplace space, he has noticed major changes in how employees use their organization’s intranet. While it used to be assumed that employees will spend much of their working time on the intranet, that is simply no longer the case, he said. Employees aren’t bound by a single URL to get their work done.
“Smart organizations have recognized this,” he said. “They understand that the best way to ensure employees are seeing important information is to put it in the channels where they prefer to work, whether that’s mobile, collaboration tools, or even the intranet. That’s the hallmark of a modern digital workplace: the ability for tasks and information to follow employees wherever they are.”
Pathyil is the director of partner strategy at Workgrid and is passionate about using technology to address burnout and stress in employees. As more employees work remotely, technology should make it easier for them to do their work.
“That’s the problem we’re helping organizations solve: Improving experiences with systems so average users can quickly and easily do what they need to do so they can get back to their high-value work,” he said.
Workgrid was a sponsor for Simpler Media Group’s Winter Digital Workplace Experience online event, which took place as an online event on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. Pathyil co-hosted a session called “Digital Workplace Trends for 2022: Optimizing the Digital Employee Experience.” He spoke with Simpler Media Group about stressors in the digital workplace and how technology can help ease stress.
Where Organizations Need to Focus Today
Simpler Media Group: What old stressors have been amplified during the pandemic, and what new stressors are impacting employees’ experiences in the workplace?
Frank Pathyil: Pre-COVID, it was easy to fill gaps left by poor communication and management styles because they were mitigated by ad hoc conversations and relationship building that’s inherent in being in the same physical location as your colleagues. With everyone working from different locations, however, employees don’t have that advantage. They can’t simply go to a coworker to ask a question or overhear a solution while getting coffee. It’s a huge source of stress for workers.
You have to invest in building culture, and it has to inform the digital landscape. This is a lesson we have long seen for digital branding, and now it’s coming to the digital workplace.
An additional stressor in this new working paradigm is that there’s no longer a geographical concept of work. Our identities used to be tied to working in a specific office location. It’s all we know, all the way back to our school days. You went to a specific elementary or high school. A specific university. And you shared your experience with the people who went there with you. Now that’s been disrupted. There’s no longer common ground, and no way to recreate it. That makes it difficult for employees to feel connected.
That’s the piece organizations need to focus on: How to create experience parity so employees can once again feel like they’re part of a cohesive structure that’s bigger than themselves.
SMG: Mental health advocates have pointed out that focusing just on what individual employees can do to manage burnout won’t solve the problem if the organization itself does not address its own part in burnout. How do you think organizations themselves can help reduce burnout through policies, benefits or cultural initiatives?
Pathyil: Organizations have two levers they can use to support employees as they attempt to ward off burnout. The first is the benefits, pay, and perks that they offer. This is a definite driver for workers, but one that has finite utility. You can’t raise salaries forever — at some point a person is compensated amply for the job that they’re doing, and you have to stop.
There is another lever organizations can take advantage of, though, and that’s the policies and practices they use to organize their workforce to get stuff done. That’s where the real power lies, in building a digital workplace that makes it easier for people to work. It may sound overly simplistic, but helping employees find information and complete routine tasks shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s the fast-track to solving the burnout problem because it gives employees what they need: more time to focus on higher-value work that brings them fulfillment.
The First Step in Tackling Burnout Is Acknowledging It's Real
SMG: How can workplace technology ease work stress? Are there instances where workplace technology can exacerbate stress? If so, how can this be avoided?
Pathyil: Every workplace technology makes the claim that they can ease stress for employees. Assuming the claim is true for the problem they solve, none of these technologies have taken the larger technical landscape into consideration. Employees who just want to quickly request time off or make a requisition struggle because those systems aren’t designed for casual users. They’re designed for power users who are in them all the time. That leaves a huge percentage of the organization wasting time as they struggle to complete basic tasks.
SMG: What advice do you have for leaders who are seeing burnout in their organizations?
Pathyil: The first step to tackling burnout in an organization is recognizing that it’s a real issue, which is not as easy to do as you might think. There was a lot of real surprise when organizations began to announce 'return to work' plans. Many employees expressed they didn’t want to go back to their physical workplace, and that took many companies by surprise. Why wouldn’t a 'return to normal' be embraced? While office-based work does offer some benefits, employers weren’t acknowledging it also comes with burdens that employees weren’t in a hurry to pick back up again.
But once there is an acknowledgement that burnout is real and employees need help, you have to bring culture change to your technology choice process. For example: it won’t be enough to just roll out collaboration tools and consider the problem solved. Employees have different modes of working. Employers need to accept that and accommodate it, implementing solutions that give every employee the power and flexibility they need for their specific circumstance.
SMG: As a thought leader in your company, what were your biggest learning opportunities in the past two years in terms of learning how to address workplace health, wellness and burnout challenges?
Pathyil: I think the biggest lesson to come out of the pandemic is the importance of humanity. When we were all in the same office together, it was easy to see each other as people. We shared meals with our colleagues. It was easy to form bonds. That’s all been lost to us now, though, and might never come back. All we have is technology, which makes it hard to connect on personal levels. Fixing that, learning how to break down those barriers, and enabling employees to bring their whole selves to work is a big key in addressing employee health and wellness going forward.