As many workers around the globe have experienced, working from home has dramatically increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One study indicates that 51% of American workers have transitioned to a home office in the past month.1 These employees cite many benefits from working at home, including being more productive, better managing interruptions, and seeing family members during the day.
However, there is also a significant risk to working from home and that is employee burnout. Burnout can occur for many reasons, including not setting boundaries between professional and personal time, and working longer hours to prove you’re being productive. In fact, the Harvard Business Review states that employers should be more concerned about this risk than about maintaining employee productivity.2 If you are concerned about burnout happening to your employees, here are some suggestions for maintaining a healthy workforce and preventing it.
Follow a normal routine
You should follow the same routine when working from home as you do when going into an office. If you normally shower and change your clothes before a morning commute, you should do so now. Likewise, take breaks throughout your day similar to an office setting. These activities will signal that you have transitioned from personal time to work time (or vice versa) and prepare your mind for the tasks ahead. This structure will help minimize the chaos that some work-at-home employees feel and help to avoid burnout.
Set work-time boundaries as much as possible
One sure cause of worker burnout is to feel the need to always be “on”, ready to respond to work requests. Going to and leaving an office typically marked the working hours of your day, and a similar schedule should be used when working from home. Let your manager and colleagues know your regular work schedule and ask that they respect it as much as possible. Start and end your workday on-time and resist the urge to work “just a little longer” at the end of the day. Of course, it will not always be possible to follow this schedule because exceptions do arise but maintaining a healthy work time/personal time balance will keep you more productive.
Focus on the highest priority work
To maintain an appearance of high productivity and output, some home workers may focus on completing easier, immediate tasks. However, this can be counterproductive in the longer-term because more important, higher priority projects that may not be so immediate are put at risk. Also, these projects must eventually be completed, which may result in longer hours and burnout. Working from home is not a time for busy work. It is a time when top priority projects should be the focus.
Maintain co-worker connection
Losing face-to-face connection with co-workers is often cited as one of the biggest challenges with working from home. The resulting social isolation and loneliness is a major concern.3 Workers need to proactively find suitable social replacements to the in-office experience. For many workers, video conferencing is providing a necessary connection, and having some face time reminds them of their support network. Other methods employed include regular team calls or instant messaging to maintain a steady flow of communication. These and other tools are important to reducing the risk of burnout that can come with social isolation.
Notice the signs of burnout
Burnout refers to a variety of different reactions that occur in response to prolonged stress or overworking. These can include physical symptoms such as extreme headaches or fatigue, along with emotional ones like a negative attitude toward your work or lack of motivation. Employees may feel like they are not good enough or are falling behind, but this is most likely because they are exhausted.
Employers need to be aware that burnout is a real risk in our new work-from-home world, watch for its signs, and take steps to counter it. In fact, a proactive approach is recommended, with the insights in this blog as a starting point. These and other steps should be communicated to employees as strong suggestions to follow. Of course, work objectives must be met, but this can be done in a balanced approach, with a focus on healthy productivity and a view towards employees physical and mental well-being.