Burnout has been a buzzword for the past few years, as the stress of modern life and our society’s obsession with productivity have taken a toll on people’s mental health. And while you might assume that working remotely would lead to a healthier work-life balance, those who work from home actually report more stress than their in-office colleagues. Now that many of us are working from home due to the pandemic, we thought it was important to highlight this issue, as employers need to be careful that their employees aren’t getting burned out more frequently.
So what is burnout? In 2019, the World Health Organization actually declared “burnout” an Occupational Phenomenon in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, with symptoms including exhaustion, negative feelings or cynicism towards a person’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout is typically caused by unmanageable workloads, unreasonable time-pressure, lack of support from managers, or unfair treatment from managers.
So what makes working from home particularly stressful? Primarily, there’s little to no physical separation from work and home, meaning it can be difficult for people to know when to shut their computer down for the day. Some people appreciate the structure that an office-life provides. It easily differentiates your working vs. non-working hours. Additionally, working from home comes with more distractions. Kids, pets, chores, and television are all moments away from interrupting your concentration. And for those that live alone, social isolation can be trying in its own way, especially now that remote workers don’t have the option to work from coffee shops or co-working spaces. Whether your team was remote before quarantine or not, the pandemic has added a lot of stress to life outside of work. Company leaders need to encourage their employees to take extra care of their mental health and equip managers to deal with burnout, too.
A healthy company culture and management team goes a long way but, it’s ultimately up to the individual to advocate for themselves and keep themselves healthy.
To avoid burnout as an employee, one must…
Set a schedule and stick to it. Once your workday is done, avoid opening email and devote some time to an activity you find relaxing. Setting your schedule also allows you to take advantage of the hours where you are most productive. If you’re more motivated to get work done in the evenings, communicate with your manager so your day starts later and ends later. Find what works for you and make sure that you’re leaving time to unwind.
Take breaks away from screens. Go for a walk or sip some coffee with a good book. We were not designed to stare at a screen for 8 hours a day so make sure to take some time to give your eyes a break.
Communicate with your manager if you feel your workload is unmanageable or unclear. This might feel like an intimidating conversation to have but it’s the only way to let your manager know how you’re feeling. The earlier you have these conversations, the better off you’ll be. Ask questions before things become too confusing and communicate your bandwidth before you feel overwhelmed.
If you need to, take a mental health day or a staycation. If you’re starting to feel burned out, take some time off to rest. You can do a digital detox from home, taking a break from screens, or get into nature by going for a long walk or hike.
Prioritize your physical health. Mental and physical health are significantly intertwined. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising will also help prevent burnout.
Reach out to those closest to you to talk when you aren’t feeling your best. This may be the most important tip. Right now, we’re all working from home together. So, we’re all in the same boat and experiencing a lot of the same hardships. Family, friends, and colleagues will be able to relate to whatever you’re going through.
While the individual can do a lot on their own to protect themselves from burnout, their employer can make that task easier with the right set of company practices.
To help employees avoid burnout, as an employer, one must…
Make well-being part of your company culture. Respect employees’ schedules. Avoid reaching out after working hours and communicate that it’s not expected that employees respond after working hours.
Normalize talking about mental health and taking mental health days. Educate managers about burnout. Make sure they know how to identify it. Burned-out employees may appear stressed, withdrawn, or negative. They might take frequent breaks, sick days, or quit.
Make sure roles and expectations are clear. Establish measurable KPIs for how each role will be evaluated so employees know how they’re doing.
Listen to employees when they tell you about work-related issues. Employees with managers who are always willing to listen are 62% less likely to be burned out.
Encourage teamwork. Stress that employees are part of a bigger team which will help mitigate feelings of isolation. Working on a team brings colleagues closer together and can even lead to friendships.Having close colleagues to lean on when you’re feeling overwhelmed is hugely helpful when trying to keep burnout at bay.
Set up virtual coffee meetings and happy hours to help keep employees connected. With no opportunity to chat by the watercooler, social interactions need to be planned virtually. Avoid scheduling too many company socials as it may begin to feel like “mandatory fun”. Bi-weekly or monthly happy hours or trivia games are a great way to keep your team connected and check in on employees.
Encourage employees to take vacations/staycations. Your employees have most likely been allotted some paid time off. Urge employees to take advantage of PTO even if they can’t physically travel anywhere right now. Taking time off to relax and recharge is essential to keeping employees happy and healthy. Respect them while they’re on break. Delegate their responsibilities beforehand so there’s no need to contact them while they’re away.
Make tech your friend! Audit the administrative or more monotonous processes at your organization. There are brilliant software tools available that are automating the more tedious tasks in various industries. Like Fetcher for recruiting!
Everyone wants to maximize productivity, but not at the expense of employees’ mental health. Burned-out employees are 2.6x more likely to actively seek a different job, so it benefits the organization as a whole to prioritize employees’ wellbeing and reduce turnover. With the added stress of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to deal with stress in healthy ways. Establish a plan to do so both as an individual and as a company. Think of the above tips as tools in a toolbox. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, agitated, or low, there is always a tool you can use to help you feel better!
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