Don't become a victim of remote work burnout.
For many of America's workers, remote work has become an ongoing fact of life. By some estimates, a mere 6 percent of workers worked primarily from home prior to the pandemic. That number had grown roughly fivefold by May 2020. According to some analysts, at least 20 percent of workers may continue to perform their duties from home even after the pandemic ends. If so, employers and employees alike will need to be prepared to deal with yet another pandemic: remote work burnout.
As remote work increased over the last two years, surveys seemed to confirm remote work's effect on burnout, with more remote workers reporting burnout than on-site employees. In this post, we will examine that trend and offer some advice to help remote workers avoid becoming burned out while working from home.
How widespread is remote work burnout?
Estimates may vary, but recent surveys have shown that remote workers have been reporting higher rates of burnout than workers who remain on-site. According to Gallup, those results are a far cry from pre-pandemic burnout trends, when remote workers reported lower levels of burnout than their on-site peers. A survey from Indeed found that 52 percent of all workers believe that burnout has increased during the pandemic. That result included 38 percent of all remote workers and 28 percent of on-site employees.
Part of the problem has been that many of the current remote workers were literally forced out of the office as companies grappled with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. As Gallup noted, many of those workers were forced into remote work without adequate preparation. In addition, many of those employees and the companies that employed them had little prior experience with remote work.
Why is remote work leading to increased rates of employee burnout?
There are many contributing factors involved in the current high rate of remote worker burnout. Indeed's survey revealed that 53 percent of those remote workers found themselves spending more time on the job despite being at home. Many have suggested that they feel pressured by supervisors to devote more hours to their duties. Pressure from clients has also been a factor in the rising feelings of burnout.
In addition, many of today's remote workers have struggled to find a realistic work-life balance, especially in areas of the country where schools were closed for many months. Perhaps most unsettling of all is the high percentage of employees who report difficulty in unplugging from their jobs once the day is done – 61 percent. A mere 6 percent of remote workers say that they completely avoid their work email during their off-hours.
Since employee burnout of any kind can lead to loss of productivity and mental, physical, and emotional health problems, it is vital to learn to recognize employee burnout and the steps you can take to prevent it from happening to you.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
There are many symptoms associated with employee burnout. The World Health Organization suggests that those burnout symptoms can include reduced efficiency, low energy, and feelings of cynicism, negativity, or mental distance from your job. Other indications of being burned out may include:
An inability to take time away from your duties for vacation and self-care
Irritability with family members, co-workers, or even clients
An avoidance of work, co-workers, and supervisors
Repeatedly missing deadlines or producing lower quality results
Unexpected health problems
Disclaimer: do not substitute this career advice for medical diagnosis or treatment. This article is for informational purposes only.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or sense that something is “just not right” with your job engagement levels, you may be suffering from burnout. Talk to a medical professional about any health problems you're experiencing.
In addition to working with a doctor, the strategies listed below may help you to overcome that burned out feeling and get back on track at work.
What can you do to avoid employee burnout?
The best way to deal with burnout is to avoid burnout in the first place. However, if you are already feeling burned out, many of the same strategies that can prevent burnout can also relieve it. Try to incorporate at least a few of these strategies into your anti-burnout regimen:
Schedule breaks and stick to that schedule
One of the most important things you can do to avoid burnout is to take periodic breaks throughout each day. As best you can, work to plan out each day's schedule, setting aside designated periods for breaks – just as you would if you were working on-site. Use that time to prepare and eat lunch or a snack, run an errand, or just go outside and play fetch with the dog. Just make sure that you stick to your break schedule as closely as possible.
Do not skip days off
Your scheduled days off are an important part of preventing yourself from getting burned out. Unfortunately, many workers have struggled to use that time away while they work from home. The problem is that their remote workstations are so close that they face constant temptation to check emails, work on a client project, or attend to other job duties. To avoid burnout, you need to resist that temptation and force yourself to leave work behind on your days off.
You should also work with your supervisors to ensure that you can utilize any vacation time that you are owed. Even if you are only able to use three or four days at a time, that extra time away from your duties will help to reduce stress and prevent burnout. Naturally, your vacation does not need to involve travel or any special activities. However, you should use that time in a way that gets you out of your ordinary routine, even if it's just a few days camping, hiking, or visiting local tourist attractions.
Leave tomorrow's work for tomorrow
Many American workers struggle to leave work before they have completed every task on their schedule. Unfortunately, that tendency can lead to overwork and burnout – especially if you find yourself working extra hours to complete tasks that could be left until the next day. Learn to recognize which tasks need to be completed today and leave tomorrow's tasks for tomorrow.
Disconnect from work at the end of each day
If you are one of those people who periodically checks their email and work texts during off-hours, then this advice is for you: stop it.
A study from just a few years ago suggests that consistently making yourself available for work during your off-hours can create feelings of anxiety. Even if you are not doing actual work during your off-hours, just feeling as though you are always on-call can result in increased strain and stress that could contribute to burnout.
To avoid that, you should consciously and purposefully disconnect from work at the conclusion of each day. Turn your computer off and leave it that way until you are ready for your next workday and avoid texts from work. In addition, you may want to investigate the practice of mindfulness, which many experts recommend for those who struggle to live in the moment. Used properly, mindfulness techniques can help to reduce anxiety and stress, and center your perspective on the here and now.
It is also a smart idea to discuss your plan with your employer before you begin to actively disconnect at the end of each day. No rational employer will want you to suffer from burnout, so most will support your plans. Obviously, you may also need to work out a way for them to reach you during an actual emergency if you work in a high-stakes field. Just be sure that you do not suddenly disappear from their radar if they have grown accustomed to always being able to reach you. Talk about your strategy and come to a mutual understanding that sets clear boundaries and expectations.
Find a wellness partner and hold each other accountable
Our last recommendation is one that could make all the difference in the world when it comes to helping you utilize these strategies: make yourself accountable to at least one other person. Find a co-worker or friend in similar circumstances and use the buddy system to help you follow through on your effort to fight burnout. This type of accountability strategy has been shown to be successful in countering everything from addiction to obesity and can be an effective tool in the fight against employee burnout as well.
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If you are struggling with remote work and its effect on employee burnout, you are not alone. The good news is that these tips and strategies can help you to recognize potential burnout and make the changes needed to protect yourself from suffering its worst effects.