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How Keen is Fighting Pandemic Burnout and ‘Always-On Culture’

A year after the pandemic began, worker burnout was soaring.

In a survey of 1,500 U.S. workers, Indeed found that 67 percent believed burnout had worsened during the pandemic. According to the job aggregator’s report, released this March, 52 percent of respondents said they themselves were experiencing burnout—a nine-point increase from January last year.

Since that time, a range of companies have taken aggressive steps to boost morale, including the social media platform LinkedIn, dating app Bumble, social media scheduling platform Hootsuite and web browser Mozilla—all of which have given their workers a bonus, five-day paid vacation. In apparel, brands like Lululemon and Under Armour are bumping wages.

Earlier this month, the outdoor footwear brand Keen unveiled its own plan “to combat pandemic burnout and the global always-on culture.” Although the initiative, dubbed “Keen Unplugged,” doesn’t include the extra week off embraced by certain tech companies, it does take aim at systemic issues around burnout, particularly the cultural pressure to overwork.

“We are growing rapidly and our team is rising to the challenge every day,” Keen’s corporate counsel Ellen Sheedy said in a statement. “In the pandemic-driven new normal, it is easy to become consumed by the global always-on culture. Keen Unplugged ensures our employees take care of themselves, take the time to stay healthy, enjoy the outdoors, and, most importantly, know when to push the pause button. We realize to support our team, we need to modify our own behavior and provide the means and opportunity to truly unplug,”

The initiative includes meeting-free Fridays. “We found that people were in meetings from Monday morning to Friday afternoon,” Erik Burbank, vice president of the company’s social and environmental justice platform Keen Effect, said in a statement.

“Being a global company makes a weekly schedule even more challenging because the team is catching up on the weekends with no chance to unplug and recharge,” Burbank continued. “Unplugged Fridays are meeting free, giving people focused time to catch up, close out the week, prepare for the weekend and unplug a few hours early to balance out the work week with extra outside time.”

Also included is a formalized program to create collective “Paid Time Unplugged” (PTU) goals. Keen likened its so-called PTU Drive to “an old-school blood drive.”

“We recognize that taking time off can in itself be stressful for people,” Dana Schwartz, senior vice president, global direct-to-consumer and digital, said in a statement. “That’s not good for our teammates, and not good for our business. We’re working to provide the support needed, and to help our teammates understand the importance of unplugging. The PTU Drive is a way to express that it’s both acceptable and expected.”

Keen’s anti-burnout push also includes a commitment by leadership to add 54 new positions and to generally prioritize work-life balance.

Keen’s move follow similar steps revealed by footwear giant Nike last week.

The sportswear maker closed all of its offices worldwide this week to give its employees additional time off to recover and rest. All global employees have the option to take time off this week in advance of a planned to return to the office this fall.

In May, Nike said it would bring employees back to its headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in September with a “3-2 flexible work model” which allows employees to work remotely up to two days a week.

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