How we live and interact has changed dramatically over the past year, and perhaps one of the biggest changes for many has been the shift to remote work. We’ve traded in our cubicles, water coolers and conference rooms for a desk strategically squeezed into the guest bedroom: our new home office! While this change has allowed us to ditch our commutes and work in our coziest pair of pants, the trade-off is a spike in the incidences of burnout.
Amid limited opportunities for social and recreational engagement over the past year and the need to work within our family spaces, many face feelings of isolation and anxiety. With the blurred lines between our professional and personal lives, these feelings compound. Thanks to work taking place within the spaces in which we live (teach, exercise, and unwind), powering down our working brains is a challenge.
Zoom fatigue has also reared its ugly head. Now that “zooming” is a verb. It has become thoroughly ingrained in our professional culture as an alternative to in-person meetings. Unfortunately, we’ve all grown tired of it. According to a study done by Stanford University, Zoom fatigue is surfacing due to a few key factors:1
- Up close eye contact for an extended time is intense and can be emotionally demanding.
- Looking at your face in real-time is exhausting.
- The cognitive load of a video chat is much higher than a regular phone call. Usually, when we see people face-to-face, we rely heavily on nonverbal cues. We have to work a lot harder to send and receive these cues when we’re on a video chat.
Recognizing the early symptoms of burnout while working from home is an essential first step towards seeking the help you need as an employee or offering help as an employer.
Burnout is, at its core, a form of chronic fatigue.2 A sign you are burning out is persistent and profound exhaustion that you just can’t seem to shake.
Other signs to look for include a struggle to disconnect, uncharacteristic mood changes, or a lack of inspiration or creativity towards work. These mood changes can lead to an inability to meet deadlines or trouble keeping track of tasks. While burnout will likely look different for everyone, the important thing is to listen to your body and notice when something doesn’t feel right.
As a leader in an organization, you have a responsibility to ensure that new work arrangements are not adversely impacting the well-being of your employees. Remember that burned-out employees are not able to work effectively. Ensuring that they feel balanced is therefore critical to maintaining productivity.
Whether or not you already recognize signs of burnout in your team, take the lead by offering some reprieve from the new demands of working from home. Here are a few ways you can proactively limit burnout within your team:
- Allow increased flexibility of hours: This flexibility can allow parents to effectively compartmentalize their personal and work lives, mainly while children are at home.
- Encourage feedback and dialogue: This will allow your employees to feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns about burnout.
- Place boundaries on Zoom: Allow for “No Zoom Fridays”, start meetings 5 minutes after the hour, and encourage your employees to turn off their cameras if they want to. Or better yet, offer audio-only meetings as an alternative.
If you’re an employee working from home, it’s essential to control what you can in your life. Setting boundaries between your professional and home life may seem challenging when everything is happening in the same space. Try setting a schedule that includes the things you need. Find balance outside of working hours, whether joining a virtual workout group, cooking dinner with the family, or connecting with friends. Commit to sticking to the plan!
Here are other tips to help you mindfully ward off work-from-home burnout:
- Be aware of your lifestyle choices: Make sure you’re eating well, getting the sleep your body needs, staying active, and connecting with the people who matter to you.
- Create strong boundaries: Avoid checking or responding to emails outside of working hours. Make sure to create a dedicated area specifically for working within your home, including a comfortable chair. Always eat away from your workspace.
- Take time off: Even if you have nowhere to go, it’s important to take your vacation days and structure them differently from how you structure your workdays. Use this time to do what your body and mind need to recharge, whether it’s meditation, soaking up time in nature, or allowing yourself to get lost in the whirlwind of a Netflix marathon.
If you’ve identified that you’re struggling with WFH burnout, here are some helpful ways to set yourself on the path to recovery:
- Let the people around you know that you’re struggling: Beyond emotional support, your friends and family are probably willing to support you in practical ways as well. Ask your friend who’s a great cook to help you with meal prep or take your mom up on her offer to take your kids for a day so that you can give yourself space to recharge. Accepting support from the people around you can take a lot of pressure off the day-to-day grind, helping you focus on feeling better.
- Be open and honest with your manager. Communicate with your manager about how you’re feeling. Perhaps not every meeting has to be via Zoom. Consider moving some meetings to a phone call or even a few email chains.
- Finally, seek a therapist. Check your healthcare coverage. If you don’t have coverage or funds, consider digital options to aid in recovery. CAMH has digital options that could be right for you. To see what they offer, click here: Digital Wellness Tools.
Considering that many organizations are deciding to make a permanent shift towards remote workplaces, it is essential to be mindful of the risk of work-from-home burnout and proactively implement changes that help you achieve a healthy balance between your work and home spheres.
As an employer, understand that this transition impacts your team members differently; check in with your employees to ensure that they have the tools and the support they need to navigate this change. And most importantly, leadership should encourage a culture of boundaries.
Understanding the key signs of work from home burnout is critical, but actively taking the steps towards prioritizing a balanced lifestyle is the most effective form of prevention!