The pandemic has taken a toll on the world of work in many ways, from advancing technology and forcing operating models to evolve, but it also has had a significant effect on workers’ mental health and burnout.

Both mental health and burnout are closely connected. Workplace burnout can have a disastrous impact on organizations by driving absenteeism and hampering productivity. Meanwhile, a report from the Lancet Commission said the mental health crisis could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if a collective failure to respond is not addressed.

In terms of contingent workforce management, stress and burnout are the same for contingent workers as for everyone else, says Eric H. Rumbaugh, a partner at law firm Michael Best & Friedrich who advises employers matters of employment law.

“In a contingent setting, or in a remote work setting (contingent or otherwise), there may be fewer opportunities to spot or communicate about warning signs,” Rumbaugh says. “It is important for us as managers to communicate with people we work with, to be human and kind and to be alert to any problems, and to escalate any issues to the appropriate person.”

And when it comes to tackling these issues, one set of strategies can work for both contingents and employees, says Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a US-based company that helps brands efficiently grow and refine their marketing partnerships. Glazer was recognized in 2019 as a Conscious Business Leader by Conscious Company, which recognizes leaders whose values extend beyond self-gain to the wellbeing of others, and whose business practices align with and reflect those values.

Contingent workforce program managers can employ the same strategies for temps that are effective for the company’s traditional workforce, Glazer says.  “Management of all employees comes down to incentives; if you do not incentivize overworking, your employees, including contingent workers, will understand what you value.”

Manager Purview

For starters, CW program managers and their staffing providers should work together to communicate workload expectations to workers. Setting a schedule can help prevent the problem of overworking.

“Managers do not have to control their contingent workers’ schedules — instead they should agree upon a certain number of working hours, outline the outcomes workers are expected to deliver, and encourage them to set clear barriers at the beginning and end of each workday to avoid spillover into their personal lives,” Glazer says.

Wellness programs. In addition to facilitating schedules and communicating workload expectations for workers, program managers can work with providers to ensure contingent workers have access to mental health and wellness programs. Enterprise buyers might also consider opening up their employee wellness program benefits to their contingent workforces.

Some of these resources can include classes on dealing with mental health, having mental health professionals available for consultations and holding workshops and events that focus on reducing anxiety and stress in the workplace.

Communication. Program managers and providers should also ensure their contingent workers know mental health is a priority to them and make it clear that workers can communicate openly with either their program or provider and understand what resources are at their disposal.

Companies need to make it clear to all workers that they value employee wellness. This can be done in a consistent manner via myriad channels: meetings, newsletters, webinars and employee forums.  Leading by example is also an effective strategy. Managers need to demonstrate by taking time off. Some unplug from work on weekends and have found many of their teams follow suit. Demonstrating a better work-life balance ultimately leads to more productivity.

Mental health and burnout do not have to be the sole responsibility of either the staffing provider or the CW program manager; both should work together to empower workers to set boundaries between work and home life and prioritize the worker’s mental health.

Mental health is everyone’s responsibility,” Glazer says. “Each organization, regardless of where they fit in the supply chain, can ensure their employees have the resources they need to protect and preserve their mental health. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also assures better results in the long-term — people who account for their mental wellbeing show up with more energy, clarity and resilience at work, and achieve better outcomes as a result.”

Leah Weiss, Skylyte co-founder and author of the book How We Work, says it is critical for both managers and workers to understand that burnout is a spectrum, not a binary on/off. Skylyte offers training and individualized coaching to leaders and their employees to avoid workplace burnout.

“Awareness is step one,” Weiss says. “The early stages of burnout look a lot like workaholism, middle stages include dropping self-care and displacing frustration from work onto family/friends. Late stages of burnout often present as depression-style symptoms and eventually lead to total collapse. Understanding the signs and symptoms of burnout will help your organization catch it earlier and prevent or heal more efficiently.”

“Managing burnout needs to be approached interpersonally,” Weiss continues. “Understanding that people don’t burn out in a vacuum, team leads need to give thought to what they are doing to support sustainable cadences of work, purpose and values alignment, community and belonging as a team. These are all skills that can be built.”