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‘After’ Match

Managing a Practice

Jennifer MossEven before the global pandemic set in, many Americans were struggling with burnout—and, if anything, the abrupt shift to WFH (which, sadly, has become yet another acronym), alongside additional stresses about health, financial well-being have only served to magnify the pressure points of our daily lives, and those who depend upon our support. 

As we—and those who rely upon our expertise—return to our workplaces, those stress points remain and, left unaddressed, could be stumbling blocks both to the success of your practice and your practices.  

Jennifer Moss, globally recognized as an expert in burnout and author of the upcoming book, “The Burnout Epidemic,” (and a keynote speaker at the 2021 NAPA 401(k) Summit), offers insights on a healthy return to the workplace.

NN: What do you think will be the hardest part(s) of readjusting our lives to a post-pandemic environment?

Moss: For many of us, it will be 18 months to two years of existing in a new paradigm before we return to work. By now, our brains will have generated new behaviors and patterns that aren’t easily switched off. Change is already challenging for some, but now we all have a frame of reference from which to compare. Before, we could accept the commute or the lack of flexibility because we had no comparisons—now we do. And for many, they don’t want to go back to the old way of working.

It’s a challenging time for employers who will soon face a war on talent. With flexibility a major driver of attraction and retention, some organizations will be facing a big increase in attrition. The pandemic generated a new future of work and there is no going back.

NN: Even before the pandemic you had been tracking trends in workplace burnout—has this time of WFH exacerbated or abated those trends?

Moss: I feel like it’s difficult to compare WFH in a pandemic to WFH in “normal” times. However, there were existing issues—both external and internal—that were highlighted during COVID-19 lockdown.

Overwork, one of the biggest predictors for burnout, increased exponentially during the pandemic. Overwork has already been a legacy issue but in 2020 we added 48 minutes to the workday, the number of meetings increased by 24% and we had to work roughly 30% more each day to reach our pre-COVID goals. In a time where we’d be battling chronic stress every single day and it shouldn’t be business-as-usual, we sure made people work hard.

We also saw the disproportionate impact of overwork and lack of fairness on women and marginalized groups. Women’s number of unpaid labor hours increased from roughly five hours extra per week to 20. The fact that women are the primary caregivers for their families was a major cause of burnout during lockdown. Some were juggling kids and homeschooling while others in the most vulnerable groups worked on the front lines. For so many women, they were simply pushed out of the labor force. These gaps were felt long-before the pandemic but became glaringly obvious during this timeframe.

Another root cause of burnout is lack of community (loneliness at work) which was exacerbated during lockdown. Already a major impact on our health, it became clear that the increase in people living alone would escalate our disconnection from each other. Technology had already become a replacement versus an augmenting of relationships. For anyone starting their job in the pandemic—they would not get a chance to form bonds with their boss or teammates.

NN: I'm sensing that many advisors are, in fact, "burned out"—from the hours, the travel, the stress—but they may not know that. Are there some common symptoms that we need to look out for as part of a self-evaluation, to stave off potential health/mental issues?  

Moss: We want to get better at knowing when we are burning out. We can achieve that by identifying the frequency of these symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue by the end of the day.
  • Feeling demotivated at the start of your day.
  • A mental distance from your job (feeling disengaged, no longer connected to the work).
  • Feeling shame or self-doubt.
  • A sense of hopelessness and/or feeling trapped in your job.
  • Overwhelming negative or cynical feelings about work.
  • Lack of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

NN: If you are feeling burned out—what can you do to alleviate those feelings?  

Moss: If we are our own boss—then we have to be responsible for preventing burnout. If we work in an organization, it becomes a “we” problem to solve. Burnout for an employee is often the result of poor organizational hygiene. For example, chronic overwork or lack of diversity and fair policies, or reduced psychological safety—all of these systemic issues can’t be solved with self-care. Unless our leadership is also committed to preventing burnout—it will be a challenge for individuals to overcome it.

If we are looking for some quick tips to manage psychological fitness, I suggest that we need to ensure more time away from our digital devices and get more sensory rest. We should also try and bifurcate between work and home. Try to get up, change your clothes, do NOT turn on your phone/laptop, and go on a fake commute. Put on your favorite music or podcast and take a 20-minute walk. Come in the house, head to your office and start the day. Repeat at the end of the day. Shut down your office. Go for a walk. Come home and change clothes and be at home. These demarcations in the day help us to decrease that feeling of “living at work.”

Managers must model the behaviors. Employees can’t be what they can’t see. So, emphasize that you are working on these self-care skills and celebrate others who are also taking care of their well-being.

NN: What do you think the biggest lesson we'll take away from this pandemic in terms of work/work-life?

Moss: The pandemic has forever changed us. And despite how emotionally and mentally challenged this experience was, it gave us an opportunity to reset our priorities. When you’re faced with your own mortality daily for an extended period—you start to evaluate what really matters.

Our death bed regrets will never include, “I feel so badly that I didn’t answer that call from my client at 5:00 a.m.,” or “I wish I’d handed in that project on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.” In the moment, these false urgencies completely overwhelm us. We need to take the learnings from this year and apply them to the future of work.

Many of us realized that we enjoyed the reduction in travel, the lack of commuting, less disruptions in the office. But, we also realized how much we miss our colleagues, the sharing of ideas in the workplace, the ability to lead people by seeing them face-to-face. In a world that can now have both—it will be a major priority for employees to see that realized by their employers. It will no longer be an all-or-nothing approach to how we work. I see the hybrid model as being the biggest shift to the post-pandemic workforce. And, in my opinion, one of the better lessons to come out of a crisis.

P.S., if you haven’t yet registered for the NAPA 401(k) Summit, you can still do so at