Workplace burnout doesn’t just happen to people who put in long hours at the office. It’s also a threat to the millions of people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Burnout happens when you face elevated levels of stress over a long period of time. It can affect both your mental and physical health.
With so many workers suddenly working from home and juggling multiple responsibilities, they could be more prone to burnout.
“With the suddenness and degree of the shift to remote work, the loss of childcare, and all of the worries that accompany the pandemic and its economic fallout, all of the things that typically cause burnout are intensified, which means the risk of burnout is intensified,” said Vanessa K. Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University via email.
These are the risk factors:
A lack of work-life balance is a big contributor to burnout. And working from home can make it even harder to achieve that balance.
Leaving the office every day and commuting home is a forced boundary that helps separate your work from your personal life. While losing the commute when you work from home can be seen as a major perk, it also means there is no barrier between work and home.
If you never really shut down your computer or walk away from your work, it’s easy to just continue working into the evening or over the weekends.
“What happens to most people when they are working from home is they often work more hours,” said Ben Fanning, author of “The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love Without Quitting.”
To combat working around the clock, you have to establish clear boundaries. Create a cut off time for when you will stop working, with boundaries like not working at night or on the weekends to clearly define your free time, Bohns suggested. It also helps to make non-work time feel different, like changing into more comfortable clothes, to signal a break from work.
“Institute other types of physical boundaries through routines, like exercising before beginning or ending work, or during your ‘lunch break,’ taking regular coffee breaks in a different location in your home, and chatting with a friend or watching a video during that time,” she added.
A lack of control
Employees who feel that they lack control over their schedules, interactions and time management are at risk of burning out.
And given all the uncertainty right now, everything can seem up in the air.
Creating a schedule that designates work, family and free time can help you regain a sense of control.
“Before this, things were more siloed,” said Fanning. “Now it’s too convenient to go from professional to personal activities.”
The stress of wanting to be the ‘perfect worker’
Even before the pandemic hit there was an obsession with being the “ideal worker” that is always online and never turns down a project, explained Bohns
“This tendency has also been exacerbated by the shift to remote work. We worry that people are going to think we are slacking off at home,” she said.
And now with more than 20 million Americans out of work and widespread economic and job insecurity, there’s even more pressure for workers to want to show just how productive and invaluable they are.
“Many of us would benefit from lowering the expectations we hold for ourselves right now and feeling okay with ‘good enough,’” said Bohns.
Now is the time to set expectations with your boss. And it’s the time for bosses to be overly flexible and understanding.
“Clarify with your boss what the expectations are,” said Fanning. “A lot of times they haven’t thought about it.”
That gives you an opportunity to detail what would work best for you with assurances that you will get your work done.
Missing social connections
Working from home can be isolating, even when you’re in a house full of people.
Having colleagues at work to turn to with a problem or to provide some relief when things get stressful helps mitigate burnout. When you don’t have that built-in support network at home, it can feel very isolating.
Maintaining these social interactions takes more effort when working from home. Be deliberate about reaching out, setting up phone or video meetings to help continue to foster your relationships.
Feelings of detachment or not caring about our work can also be signs of burnout.
Managers should check in regularly with their team members to help prioritize assignments and provide feedback. This can help workers be more involved in the decision making process and feel like they are contributing to the success of the team.
Not taking time for you
And don’t forget to add self care to your hectic schedule.
It can be as easy as slowing down for an afternoon and focusing on just one task that brings you pleasure.
“Multitasking sucks the enjoyment out of the moment,” said Fanning. “Maybe you enjoy cooking or you enjoy talking to your work team and clients, but if you are dong both of those things at the same time, you aren’t really enjoying either one.”