This article is the first of a two-part series aimed at preventing Work-From-Home Burnout. Be sure to read 10 Work From Home Workplace Wellness Solutions.
Work From Home (WFH) has become the topic de jour as the pandemic continues, and telecommuting becomes the norm for many companies and employees. In July, The Wall Street Journal reported Google announced it would allow employees to continue working from home until at least June 2021. Similarly, Forbes reported Facebook created a policy for employees the option to work remotely until June 2021. Small and medium-sized organizations across North America have sent employees home to telecommute full-time or part-time. From such diverse fields as the tech sector to entrepreneurs to pastors, many people ask if this trend will permanently carry on. 1, 2
While this new normal offers some incredible benefits, such as eliminating commute time, working from any location around the globe, and fewer co-worker interruptions, it also presents many challenges. Policies, boundaries, and workplace wellness are being called into question.
In an article posted on CNBC entitled Remote work burnout is growing as pandemic stretches on. Here’s how to manage it, the author states, “Over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, according to Monster. Stress and financial anxiety are high, yet workers are not taking enough time off to recharge, fearing they could be the next layoff if they don’t work hard enough.” 3,
An article published on Fast Company reports, “as the pandemic drags on, many remote workers are reporting feeling drained.” While many people at one time dreamed of working from home, and the benefits are numerous, Work From Home burnout is real. 4
The following are six challenges people who work from home face. Be sure to read the article, 10 Work From Home Workplace Wellness Solutions for practical measures to overcome the presenting challenges.
5 Work-From-Home Challenges
1. Shifting boundaries
Setting up a home office rather than driving into work creates a lack of separation between work and home life. The place you come to relax is now the place you engage in video calls, and the room where you used to sit down to watch movies has become your home office.
Beyond physical space, it isn’t easy to transition mentally from working at home to resting. Without a commute and the built-in debrief time it provides, thoughts of work tend to linger in the back of your mind.
Bloomberg published an article entitled The Pandemic Workday Is 48 Minutes Longer and Has More Meetings citing research conducted by The National Bureau of Economic Research states, “From New York City to Tel Aviv, the telecommuting revolution has meant a lot more work, according to a study of 3.1 million people at more than 21,000 companies across 16 cities in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
The researchers compared employee behavior over two 8 week periods before and after Covid-19 lockdowns. Looking at email and meeting meta-data, the group calculated the workday lasted 48.5 minutes longer, the number of meetings increased about 13% and people sent an average of 1.4 more emails per day to their colleagues.” While a flexible workspace is appealing, the demands of work appear to be escalating. 5, 6
Boundaries must be fortified around the type of work you do. Access to adequate training is necessary to ensure competency, and a clear start and end time for work will help ensure those boundaries.
2. Lack of productivity
You may find productivity falling short as your motivation lags. You may feel like hitting the snooze button too many times and showing up to work in your pajamas with no required start time.
Your new flexible workplace may involve your family, pets, television, household chores, and a refrigerator promising distractive deliciousness. Not only do distractions come up physically, but cognitively, they continue to be on your mind when you hear others speaking or music playing from someone else’s iPod.
Distractions from the ding of your cell phone with another reminder for your next meeting, task, responsibility takes your mind away from the task at hand. The ping indicating the arrival of more text messages and Facebook notifications shunts your brain’s ability to focus and be productive.
Perhaps the thought of one more Zoom meeting, email from a co-worker, or request to connect outside of office hours has you functioning at less than peak performance. Hopping on social media to see what is new may seem much more appealing.
You may also have to attend to a partner, roommate, or children. Caregiving duties that used to end once you left the door now extend from the time of waking to bedtime, adding another layer to your already stressful day.
Requests for video conferencing and phone calls far outweigh in-person communication while working from home. You are likely to spend more time staring at a screen for team meetings. Worse, sorting out etiquette on Zoom can be vague, and you find yourself staring at disengaged teammates yawning onscreen.
Remote communication presents interesting challenges not seen before. Relationships take more fostering to remain positive, especially in light of a lack of actually be present with one another to evaluate more clearly the intentions behind what’s communicated. Without seeing body language and hearing tonal inflections as accurately as in person, misunderstandings are bound to happen. Miscommunications occur more often due to having to explain the obvious because what would be obvious in person is not clearly evident online.
Beyond the human dynamics, learning new technology rapidly and oftentimes changing on a weekly or monthly basis causes another level of fatigue.
Working from home requires a great deal of screen time, so limiting non-work time spent in front of screens becomes critical.
Consider your relationship with technology. A 2018 study cited, “Americans spend nearly half of their waking hours (42%) looking at a screen.” This research was conducted almost two years before the COVID-19 office exodus. 7
According to doctors David Perlmutter, MD, and Austin Perlmutter, MD, in their book, Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness, “The overuse of modern technology also correlates with the presence of mental health issues. In a 2017 paper that reviewed trials relating to smart phone usage and mental health among adults, one pattern was documented repeatedly: depression, anxiety, and stress were all tied to problematic smartphone use.” 8, 9
The type of stress caused by continuous exposure to advertisements and social media that creates a drive for instant gratification can be harmful to the brain, particularly the parts that help you feel a sense of agency and control in your life. 10
While screen-time and team communications may have increased, human interaction has, in most cases, decreased dramatically since the beginning of COVID-19. According to an article posted on Psychology Today, feelings of isolation and loneliness can make it hard to get your work done. Isolation can also lead to depression, anxiety, and a host of physical issues. 11
In an article released on technical.ly, the author states, “The stress of the pandemic, including working from home, is prime for burnout.” and “many people have anxiety from feelings they may be having about being with their family 24/7.” Isolation and wanting to get away from constant exposure to the family or roommates can coexist. 12
An article published on Wired unpacks the challenges associated with telecommuting while sharing a home with others. “It’s about finding a way to coexist with someone and all of their needs and anxieties, every minute of every day in a confined space for an undisclosed amount of time. If you think that should be easy because you already live together and love one another, you’re wrong, and you know it.” 13
Fostering healthy relationships, both with those who inhabit your space and your friends and family, remains important in sustaining health regardless of tensions. Cultivating mutually beneficial relationships not only prevents isolation but fosters healthy connectedness. 14
Symptoms of Burnout due to Working Remotely
According to an articlewritten on WebMD, common symptoms of burnout include:
- Downtime from work feels non-restorative.
- A week or two of vacation may be inadequate to restore energy and enthusiasm.
- Lack of enthusiasm.
- Irritability and impatience.
- Changes in attitude, especially becoming cynical.
- Difficulty generating interest.
- Being easily distracted.
- Declining productivity.
- Using alcohol and other substances to cope. 15
Now that we’ve investigated the challenges of working from home, discover ten practical solutions for overcoming these issues. By recognizing the obstacles presented in this article and creating workplace wellness strategies to prevent burnout, both organizations and individuals can thrive.
1. Rob Copeland and Peter Grant, “Google to Keep Employees Home Until Summer 2021 Amid Coronavirus Pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, July 27, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-to-keep-employees-home-until-summer-2021-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-11595854201.
2. Jack Kelly, “Facebook Tells Employees To Work From Home Up Until Summer 2021,” Forbes (Forbes Magazine, August 10, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/08/07/facebook-tells-employees-to-work-from-home-up-until-summer-2021/.
3. Jack Kelly, “Facebook Tells Employees To Work From Home Up Until Summer 2021,” Forbes (Forbes Magazine, August 10, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/08/07/facebook-tells-employees-to-work-from-home-up-until-summer-2021/.
4. Lydia Dishman, “Why You’re Feeling Work-from-Home Burnout-and What Can Be Done,” Fast Company (Fast Company, August 25, 2020), https://www.fastcompany.com/90543532/why-youre-feeling-work-from-home-burnout-and-what-can-be-done.
5. Jeff Green, “The Pandemic Workday Is 48 Minutes Longer and Has More Meetings,” Bloomberg.com (Bloomberg, August 3, 2020), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-03/the-pandemic-workday-is-48-minutes-longer-and-has-more-meetings.
6. Evan DeFilippis et al., “Collaborating During Coronavirus: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Nature of Work,” NBER, July 30, 2020, https://www.nber.org/papers/w27612.
7. “Americans Spend Nearly Half of Their Waking Hours (42 Percent) Looking at a Screen, It’s Been Revealed by New Research.,” CooperVision®, August 13, 2018, https://coopervision.com/our-company/news-center/press-release/americans-spend-nearly-half-their-waking-hours-42-percent.
8. David Perlmutter, Austin Perlmutter, and Kristin Loberg, Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness (New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 61.
9. J.D. Elhai et al., “Problematic Smartphone Use: A Conceptual Overview and Systematic Review of Relations with Anxiety and Depression Psychopathology,” J. Affect. Discord. 207 (January 2017): 251-59
10. David Perlmutter, Austin Perlmutter, and Kristin Loberg, Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness (New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 6-7.
11. F. Diane Barth, “Does Working From Home Make You Blue? Research Explains Why,” Psychology Today (Sussex Publishers, May 3, 2020), https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-couch/202005/does-working-home-make-you-blue-research-explains-why.
12. Work-from-home burnout is real. Here’s how to combat it By Holly Quinn / staff, “Work-from-Home Burnout Is Real. Here’s How to Combat It,” Technical.ly Delaware (Technical.ly, July 23, 2020), https://technical.ly/delaware/2020/07/10/work-from-home-burnout-is-real-heres-how-to-combat-it-rich-lombino-mental-health-coronavirus/.
13. Emma Grey Ellis, “How to Not Completely Hate the People You’re Quarantined With,” Wired (Conde Nast, March 17, 2020), https://www.wired.com/story/coronavirus-surviving-quarantine-without-killing-partner/.
14. “Understanding Healthy Relationships,” accessed August 31, 2020, https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/physhlth/frame_found_gr12/rm/module_e_lesson_1.pdf, 215.
15. Seth J. Gillihan, “How to Handle Work-From-Home Burnout,” WebMD (WebMD, July 2, 2020), https://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/20200702/how-to-handle-work-from-home-burnout.
16. “Burn-out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases,” World Health Organization (World Health Organization, May 28, 2019), https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/.