It used to be that working-from-home was a perk. Little did we know that this perk has led to so many cases of work-from-home burnout.
Many have experienced burnout before. But a new form of burnout from the working-from-home setting is posing serious threats to personal and professional lives. In addition to the stress of juggling work and home life, including children stuck at home because of school closures, there is increased financial anxiety. Everyone is trying to work and live as if things are normal during a time that is not at all normal.
With no end in sight to either the pandemic or the economic disruption it has caused, employees are increasingly worried about their employees being pushed to the edge. For some of us, blurring work and personal life are normal things, but many people have been forced into this new setting, unprepared.
What is work-from-home burnout?
In simple terms, work-from-home burnout happens when people find it hard to separate their life at work and their life at home. It is especially difficult to manage the two during a pandemic, as both need to function within the same living space. It is difficult to know when the workday ends and when personal life begins.
Although the work-from-home setting is forced during a pandemic, expectations remain as if it is a perk. Work-from-home typically requires employees to ensure (or proof) that they are constantly available and reachable. Because we live in a wired world, whenever an email notification pings, or when you get a text from a co-worker, you feel obligated to reply regardless of the hour. Hence, you take on more work because you are showing others that you are available 24/7. The feeling of constantly being on duty and connected can make people feel physically and emotionally exhausted. When all you think about is work, you will stop doing things that you normally enjoy. Burnout is basically a chronic form of fatigue.
Burnouts can be ‘infectious’. If one employee is feeling burnout, it can affect an entire team, and eventually affect customers and the business itself. There are several characteristics of employee burnout, which is the result of physical and emotional exhaustion and stress:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Lack of energy
- Job dissatisfaction
- Overwhelming job demands
- Conflicting job requirements
- Lack of proper resources or training
What are the signs of work-from-home burnout?
The pandemic contributes to burnout in ways that working from home during a normal time would not. People have kids, partners, and roommates at home, or they might be caring for a sick family member or elderly parents. They are also trying to do everything else like work, exercise, relax, and socialize, in a space they did not previously use for all those things.
Like any other health issue, it is important to know the warning signs early to reduce or prevent the effects of work-from-home burnout. For many, the first sign of burnout is fatigue. Here are more signs to look out for:
- Losing track of tasks
- Not completing work on time
- Going through mood changes like irritability, sadness, or anger
- Experiencing symptoms of depression, like hopelessness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, or fatigue
- Feeling discouraged or apathetic about work
- Getting poor sleep, experiencing insomnia, or having trouble falling asleep
- Feelings of detachment from those around you
- A sense of ineffectiveness and losing confidence in your abilities at work
- Trouble concentrating and forgetfulness
- Experiencing physical symptoms, like chest pain, headaches, gastrointestinal pain
How to prevent or reduce work-from-home burnout
While burnout is typically associated with excessive workload, detachment, and fatigue, it is hard to really assess how you are contributing to your own burnout. You can attempt to break certain work activities that contribute to burnout, but you can also take on new and fun activities that can help manage your stress level.
Keep in mind that burnout will not simply disappear. It will take some time and several attempts too. Try doing the same thing in different ways or try doing new things. Not everything will work out but do not give up. The last thing you want is for burnout to return and you are back where you started.
The following are some simple things you can try for a start:
Recognize the problem
First and foremost is to recognize the symptoms and acknowledge that it is a real problem. Only you know when your body is giving out cues that a problem is brewing.
Open up to your boss
Tell your boss what is going on in your life – the good and the bad. Building that relationship with your superior will make it easier for you to open up and seek help when you really need it.
When there are too many tasks at hand, you may tend to lose track of it all and give up before you even start. So, ask your boss for guidance and clarity on prioritization. This will help you plan and manage your deliverables better.
Ask for flexibility if it will help you better balance your personal and professional responsibilities. Reassure your boss that flexibility will allow you to be more focussed and productive.
Find out about mental health benefits
Find out whether your employer offers any mental health benefits that they did not provide before the pandemic. For example, mental health programmes, counselling service, and stress reduction programmes.
Change your setup and routine
When you work-from-home, it is critical to create a surrounding that will help you perform your work. Changing work styles and routine is also a helpful way to reduce stress. Here are some things you can do:
- Set a new schedule to control situations that seem out of control. Wake up each morning at a scheduled time, dress for work, and plan your breaks for the day.
- Set up a dedicated workspace. Cordon yourself from the rest of your domestic surroundings.
- Focus on work tasks before personal tasks. Personal tasks can be attended to during your breaks or when you are officially off work.
- Clarify expectations with your team every morning. Make sure everyone knows what the expectations for the day are. Communication is vital.
- Define your actual working hours. Turn off email and work notifications when you are not on the job.
Turn off the television, disconnect yourself from the World Wide Web and ignore social media. Limit the amount of news that you watch or read every day if news is a stress trigger for you.
Take some time out
If you are expected to function like a machine, then you cannot overexert yourself until you go bust. Make time for rest and recharge. A 15-minute downtime can do wonders to your emotional and physical state. Consider activities like these:
- Move your body and stretch
- Get some fresh air
- Release stress through art – something as simple as adult colouring book
- Read a chapter in a book of your choiceListen to music
Giving back is a meaningful way to be productive and boost your morale. A sense of purpose can make you feel good about yourself and stay motivated.
Carve that smile on your face by rewarding yourself at the end of the day. It does not need to involve money. It can be a much-needed hot bath, a few hours of Netflix-bingeing or restful sleep.
Burnout can happen to anyone but many still underestimate the seriousness of a burnout. If you care for your mental and physical health as well as that of your co-workers, change your mindset. Pay extra attention to your mind and body and know when to reach out for help. In our fight against a pandemic that we cannot control, we cannot lose to something that we can control. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, a healthier version of you is testament that nothing is impossible if you set your healthy mind to it.