Countering Burnout in the Remote Work Era


How to avoid burnout in the age of remote working.

While some may feel the need to work all the time to showcase their devotion and productivity to their employers, others may struggle to balance their work and personal life. For working parents, remote working becomes all the more stressful as they now have to take care of their children and help with online classes as well.

Messed up sleep cycles, Zoom fatigue, and blurring work-life boundaries have become constants for many of us. The result: increased chances of experiencing burnout.

According to a survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), while 75% of people have experienced burnout at work, 40% said they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic. Additionally, 37% of respondents said that they are now working longer hours than usual since the onset of the pandemic.

With many companies looking at allowing permanent remote work or a hybrid schedule, these struggles seem to be in for the long haul. It is thus important for us to take measures to reduce the chances of burnout.

First, let’s understand what burnout means.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome arising from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, negative or cynical feelings related to one’s job, and reduced efficacy in the workplace.

Classified as an ‘occupational phenomenon,’ as opposed to a medical condition, burnout can be experienced by everyone, from founders and entrepreneurs to employees, homemakers, and celebrities.

Burnout can cause medical complications like stress, anxiety, hypertension, panic attacks, diabetes, depression, and insomnia.

According to a survey by Glint, burnout doubled between March and April, from 2.7% to 5.4%, “suggesting that it’s a growing threat to the productivity and engagement of today’s workforce.”

Additionally, the survey found that employees who were struggling to balance their personal and work lives were 4.4 times more likely to exhibit signs of burnout.

How to avoid burnout

Set up a dedicated workspace

While you may want to work from your couch or bed, doing so will not only distract you from work, but is also bad for posture. Having a dedicated home office will help create physical boundaries between work and home, keep distractions at bay, and work comfortably and efficiently.

If you do not have a dedicated home office, try to convert a small nook in your home into a workspace complete with a desk, computer, and chair, where you can comfortably work every day with minimal distractions.

Set boundaries

Even though you are working from home, you don’t have to remain available to answer calls and emails after the work day is over. It is important to set boundaries and let your co-workers and manager know when you will be available.

According to Harvard Business Review, “trying to squeeze in work and email responses whenever we have a few minutes to do so – during nap time, on the weekend, or by pausing a movie in the evening – is not only counterproductive but also detrimental to our well-being.”

As opposed to an office environment, where walking out the door used to mean that you won’t be responding to work-related communications, remote working has blurred the line between personal and professional life.

To stick to the boundaries you have set for yourself, you can turn off your work and email notifications after work hours. Additionally, you can shut down your computer and store it in a drawer or closet until your next work day begins.

“[You] have to be steadfast. When it says, ‘Stop,’ it means stop,” said Derek Weeks, vice president of Sonatype, an open-source automation company. “It doesn’t mean bring your phone to dinner and check what’s happening on Slack.”

Create a routine and stick to it

While working from the office, your day might have started with a cup of coffee or a workout, and you would’ve commuted to the office while listening to your favorite podcast or reading a book. Sticking to the same routine while working from home can help you get into the work mindset and get going.

If you used to drive to your office, you can instead go for a walk outside. In addition to helping you make the mental transition to work, getting fresh air can help clear your lungs and increase your mental focus and memory. You should have a similar wind-down routine to close your work day in the evening.

Take regular breaks

While working from home, it is easy to end up working continuously for hours at your desk. Taking short, regular breaks will help rest your eyes, help you stay focused for longer, and even help increase your productivity.

Make sure to take coffee or tea breaks, take your lunch at same time as you would in the office, stretch when you feel cramped, and go for short walks.

Avoid Zoom fatigue

Along with remote working, virtual meetings have also now become the norm. The newly-coined term ‘Zoom fatigue’ refers to the tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet.

According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. In a video call, people have to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. Paying attention to all these things requires more energy.

There are several measures you can take to avoid Zoom fatigue. Turn off your camera whenever feasible to reduce self view-induced anxiety, avoid back-to-back meetings, have an itinerary in place to limit everyone’s virtual time, resort to phone calls, email, or instant messaging instead of a Zoom call, and resist the urge to multi-task while on a video call.

“If you can, try to make one day of the week your ‘Zoom day’ so you can leverage other days to not be on calls and get some work done. Ask your boss what could work for everyone,” recommended Nadia Brown, CEO and founder of The Doyenne Agency, a sales training organization for corporate employers.

Take time off

Taking some time off work can help you gain more clarity and feel refreshed. Even if you don’t take a long vacation, you can go on a hike, have an impromptu picnic at the park, visit the beach, or even just snuggle up with a book in your backyard. However, remember to turn off your notifications and try not to think or talk about work.

“Most people return to work from even a short amount of time off feeling more productive and refreshed,” said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert.

Take care of yourself

Amid the hustle and bustle of work and house chores, carve out some time for yourself. Take one or two hours a day to go back to a favorite hobby, spend time with family or friends, or take up a new class – whatever helps you relax. Getting enough sleep is also a must.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help or reach out to your support systems when things get overwhelming.

“We are all in this together,” said Melissa L Whitson, a psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. “It is helpful to know that other people are in the same boat. […] Just find out what works for you and, if it’s not working, try something new. It is not a one-size-fits-all.”

Header image by from Pexels


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