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What can business leaders do to prevent 'rust out'?

Posted on: 15th May 2023

Reading time:  5 mins

What can business leaders do to prevent 'rust out'?What can business leaders do to prevent 'rust out'?

In today's fast-paced economy, business leaders have their hands full, juggling productivity goals while prioritising employee health and well-being.

Encouraging the right work-life balance is crucial for companies to combat the various workplace challenges that have emerged in recent months. Overworking employees can lead to them feeling burned out. If their efforts and achievements aren’t recognised, it could result in 'quiet quitting', productivity theatre through 'presenteeism', or lingering dissatisfaction via 'resenteeism' – all of which can create challenges in the working environment.

It’s equally important to make sure workers feel engaged and suitably challenged. When this aspect is neglected, employees can experience 'rust out' – a recently coined term for team members becoming bored, unchallenged, and disengaged from their work. This can hinder productivity, work quality, and potentially contribute to higher absenteeism and turnover rates.

Fortunately, there is a solution. In this article, we'll explain how implementing hybrid work strategies can promote a healthier work-life balance, enabling employees to work more flexibly and efficiently, ultimately addressing these workplace challenges and fostering a positive work environment. But first, let's delve into the latest challenge faced by business leaders.

What is ‘rust out’?

They may sound similar, but the phenomenon of ‘rust out’ is quite distinct from burnout. Employees often burn out because they are so intellectually and emotionally drained by their work that they struggle to implement boundaries and pursue a healthy work-life balance. Rust out, however, occurs when employees become bored, understimulated and disengaged from their work, eventually becoming apathetic and depressed.

However, as Cardiff University’s professor of occupational therapy, Teena Clouston told Cosmopolitan, there’s more to rust out than lethargy: “Rust out is a lot deeper and more profound than boredom. It’s where people don’t feel they’re doing anything purposeful or being recognised. They often feel blocked – as if there’s nowhere to progress to, and it can be a much harder issue to address than burnout.”

The scale of the problem

So how much do business leaders need to worry about this undesirable trend? While there is no data specifically pertaining to the problem of rust out, a recent Gallup report paints a fairly bleak picture of the levels of interest and investment employees have in their work.

The study found that ‘just 21% of people feel engaged (dropping to 14% in Europe – the region with the lowest percentage of engaged employees), with 60% feeling emotionally detached in their jobs and 19% miserable.’

These striking figures highlight a pressing need for business leaders to take action and address the underlying issues contributing to disengagement and dissatisfaction.

How can business leaders prevent rust out?

As we move through 2023, it's crucial for business leaders to focus on strategies that help employees stay engaged and avoid the pitfalls of rust out. There are a number of ways companies can build an infrastructure that minimises this risk, such as:

1. Making sure workloads and levels of challenge are matched to the capability and experience of the employee

2. Clearly defining job roles and ensuring they accurately reflect employees' day-to-day tasks

3. Actively showing appreciation for employees' input and ideas

4. Providing clear progression plans and continuous professional development opportunities for each employee

5. Allocating training and mentoring budgets to facilitate upskilling and equip employees for new challenges

The role of hybrid in combatting rust out

Hybrid work models can be a key solution to many operational pain points, including reducing the risk of rust out. A recent IWG white paper presents strong evidence that employees who split their time between company headquarters and a location closer to home enjoy better health, happiness, and productivity due to shorter commutes and increased flexibility.

Hybrid work models not only help recruit top talent, but also aid employee retention. IWG's 'HR Leaders and Hybrid Working Report' reveals that 95% of senior HR professionals believe hybrid work to be an effective recruiting tool, with nearly two-thirds feeling that it improves employee retention.

By reducing commute times and providing workspaces that foster meaningful engagement with colleagues, hybrid work models promote well-being, collaboration, and connection to company culture. While each business and employee may need to find their unique work-to-workspace balance, the hybrid model has ample evidence to support its benefits, including new legislation that supports hybrid working arrangements.

Companies embracing hybrid models are discovering that their workforces can achieve high engagement and productivity levels while working across local offices, home, and corporate headquarters.

Regus flexible workspaces are specifically designed to make it easy for your company to access and implement hybrid working. With 4,000 locations across over 120 countries, there’s sure to be a Regus space close to home, giving employees access to business-class facilities without the commute. Talk to one of our experts to see how we can help revolutionise your business operations and improve employee engagement.

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