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How to Use Gaming to Give Employees Relief From Burnout

As the pandemic drags on, business professionals need help coping with work burnout. Beyond tried-and-true burnout solutions, some companies are embracing more novel approaches. Here are a few ways to manage employee burnout using video games.

Even before the pandemic, work burnout was taking a significant toll on employees and employers. According to a 2018 Gallup survey of 7,500 full-time employees, 23% of respondents were experiencing burnout very often or always; another 44% reported experiencing occasional burnout. Now that the business world has shifted to telecommuting, employees can’t escape their work — even at home.

These struggles might seem personal, but the consequences of burnout aren’t limited to the people experiencing it. A study from Gallup found that employees experiencing burnout are 23% more likely to visit an emergency room, adding a significant burden to the healthcare system. That same study indicated that these individuals were 2.6 times more likely to be looking for a new job and 63% as likely to use a sick day, leaving employers to contend with the costs of turnover, absenteeism, and disengagement. While it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep work burnout at bay, life during the pandemic makes that difficult.

COVID-19 resulted in additional responsibilities and pressures for those lucky enough to keep their jobs during the recession. Many professionals are sharing home offices with spouses while simultaneously assisting children with remote learning. Plus, video calls are more draining than in-person meetings due to the possibility of technical glitches and the inability to capture as many non-verbal cues. All of these complications make remote work more exhausting than a day in the office, and it’s taking a toll.

Video Games: A Potential Solution to Work Burnout

As more contagious virus variants emerge around the world, it’s clear that coping with work burnout within the confines of the pandemic will remain an important priority. After all, when people are frustrated at work or stressed about factors beyond their control, they’re often quick to take that frustration out on the people closest to them.

Unfortunately, lashing out is an unhealthy behavior that leaves everyone involved feeling worse than they did before. Instead, it’s better to make a concerted effort to build stress-relieving activities into daily routines. This is where video games can help. In-person get-togethers or hobbies won’t work while social distancing, and weather fluctuations can limit possible outdoor activities. However, video games are accessible, entertaining, and challenging, providing endless hours of fun for people of all ages.

Researchers have found video games to be a surprising source of psychological benefits, helping to improve players’ moods, instill a sense of calm, and generally reduce pent-up stress and anxiety. And as quarantine restrictions limit people’s opportunities to interact and relieve stress, 55% of Americans have turned to video games instead, according to SuperData.

Aside from a socialization component — which drove an estimated 27% of video game adoption in 2020 — relaxing video games can create a sense of routine or ritual that’s missing during these tumultuous times. They can also give players a crucial feeling of purpose, even if that purpose isn’t “real.” For example, the social simulation game “Animal Crossing” exploded in popularity at the start of the pandemic. In the game, players can construct personalized towns with the help of animal characters, completing routine tasks at their own pace.

Although it’s critical to maintain physical distance from people to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people still need to connect to de-stress. The World Health Organization officially recognizes the phenomenon of burnout, so leaders should make sure they are empowering employees to be as happy, healthy, and productive as possible. The benefits of video gaming are proven, which is why employers should consider using video games as a coping mechanism and outreach activity for their teams. A video game community could be exactly what remote workers need to wind down after a stressful day.

How to Manage Employee Burnout Using Video Games

Instead of staring down the barrel of burnout, employees should take a break and play video games. Of course, that’s easier said than done; people really struggle to step away voluntarily, and 32% of employees feel pressured to not take paid time off. Leaders need to be intentional about scheduling time for employees to unwind and game. Because employee burnout ultimately impacts businesses, employers are also responsible for preventing it.

By using video games in the workplace as a solution to employee burnout, leaders can reduce stress, improve productivity, and increase workplace morale. Eric Palmer, the chief marketing officer of Brokers Alliance Inc., says renovating the company’s game room for employees increased office morale and brought the team closer together. While teams can’t enjoy playing physical arcade games at the moment, they can connect virtually. Employers should consider using these two strategies as they explore the possibilities of gaming:

  1. Have a day of play.
    Amid the pandemic, most organizations are focusing on implementing technology to preserve or even improve productivity. However, a video game break can boost productivity by 20% after 45 minutes of play. Imagine what a scheduled video game day could do. Why spend thousands on productivity software when employees can just use their own gaming consoles?
    That’s why empathetic leaders should lean on relaxing video games to increase productivity and create important moments of team building and peace. Invite employees to share their favorite video games with others, providing time for everyone to sit down and play together. Leaders can also host competitions between different departments, allowing employees to find shared interests and interact with people they don’t normally see on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Start a recreational esports league.
    The pandemic exacerbated issues like loneliness by about 20% to 30%, leading to decreased employee performance and innovation. Without social touchpoints, many people struggle with motivation and confidence. Companies in a variety of industries realized how important it was to prevent the adverse effects of isolation, which is how virtual experiences like the “Fortnite” concerts came to be.
    Leaders seeing high turnover and reduced engagement should follow suit. But instead of hosting a traditional Zoom happy hour, schedule recreational esports league matches. An ongoing recreational esports league can regularly bring team members together and allow them to blow off steam. Leaders might also consider inviting employees’ significant others and family members, creating opportunities for deeper relationships despite the physical distance between team members. After all, it’s not just about the games — it’s about connecting with a community when in-person gatherings aren’t safe.

Coping with work burnout is even more important when people’s normal support networks are out of physical reach. That’s why employees and their organizations should consider using video games as a coping mechanism. Video games impart a sense of community, serve as a source of relaxation, and help players temporarily escape reality to mentally recharge.

Video games are far from the only way to mitigate burnout, however. Employers who are figuring out how to deal with burnout at work should reach out to their team members. Employees will know exactly what will help them relax and recharge, so leaders should implement their ideas when possible. Plus, just starting a dialogue about burnout can show employees that they are valued as individuals.


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Austin Smith
Austin Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Mission Control, a platform for gathering and growing community using recreational esports. Austin is an economist and entrepreneur who focuses on urban policy, social entrepreneurship, and esports/sports technology.

Austin Smith is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.