Millions of people around the world were recently struck with a rapid transition to remote work. In fact, according to a CNBC All America Survey, 42% of U.S. workers who did not work from home before now do. For some, it may be a dream come true, but for others, it’s posing many challenges
While there are many positives to working remotely, such as saving on commuting time and costs and more lenient dress codes, there is one glaring negative that can come from working from your home: burnout. A 2019 survey by Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnout, with 52% stating they work longer hours than they would in an office.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout, also known as “vital exhaustion,” becomes apparent after long periods of exposure to workplace stress and leads to feelings of irritability, intense fatigue, and low productivity.
Not to be confused with simply feeling tired, a researcher at the University of Southern California Medical school, Parveen Garg, explained the difference between vital exhaustion and more typical exhaustion, saying:
“Vital exhaustion is the experience of ‘profound stress’ that goes unchecked, unmanaged, or is unrelenting over time. It’s not a transient feeling of fatigue — it sticks with you and can lead to decreased motivation and increased irritability.”
Noticing the Signs Of Burnout
The Mayo Clinic describes the following symptoms of job burnout as:
- You’ve become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients.
- You feel disillusioned about your job.
- Your sleep habits have changed.
- You find it hard to concentrate.
- You’ve become cynical or critical at work.
- You lack satisfaction about your achievements.
The first thing to do when experiencing some or many of these symptoms is to talk to your supervisor and speak openly about your feelings. Co-workers, loved ones, friends, and mental health professionals can also be helpful when experiencing the above symptoms.
How To Combat Burnout
Not only is it possible to “cure” burnout after it happens, but it’s also preventable. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings while working and note any constant unhappiness. The first step to solving your burnout problem is realizing that you have one, but to combat burnout — continue reading.
Draw a Line Between Personal And Professional Life
It’s easy for the line between work life and home life to become blurred when your office is located within your home. Habits such as telling yourself to finish ‘just one more task’ only to realize three more hours have gone by may make you feel like a hard-working employee, but not setting concrete boundaries can be damaging to your mental health.
Begin with physical boundaries and set up a separate space to work, even if that means a seat at your kitchen island. Creating a physical workspace will help you to mentally leave your job at the end of the day. Once the workday is over, sign off mentally and digitally and do not check back in until the next day — even if that means physically turning your computer off or putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode to avoid responding to incoming emails or messages.
Develop a Solid Routine
With the ability to wake up, walk a room over, and begin working, it’s easy to fall into the habit of skipping a morning routine. This dangerous pattern blurs the line of work and home even further and decreases productivity levels drastically. The best way to handle this new work-from-home lifestyle is to develop a routine and maintain it in order to provide yourself with normalcy and a sense of control. For workers with children at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a consistent routine may be a bit of a challenge, but worth it nonetheless.
Replicate “Normal” Office Cues In A Home Setting
When working in an office, there are certain cues that naturally happen to signify it’s the end of the day, including the rustling of chairs and the sounds of people packing up. While this is hard to recreate in a home, there are other ways to trick your brain into powering down.
By setting an alarm to go off when there are about twenty-minutes left to the workday, your brain will begin to switch from “work mode” to “home mode” as you wrap-up.
Mirror an office “water-cooler experience” with Slack style messenger channels intended for non-work related banter. Sharing personal stories and relating to co-workers is a natural part of the workday that builds trust and prevents feelings of isolation. Now more than ever, the potential to feel isolated is high and can lead to a plummet in your mental health, resulting in inevitable burnout.
After going from an office setting to a virtual setting abruptly, the adjustment to the lack of human interaction can be difficult. Reach out to those virtually around you and be transparent with your feelings.
Take Screen Breaks And Meal Breaks
Scheduling breaks for yourself throughout the day helps to clear your mind, decompress, and come back to your tasks feeling refreshed. If possible, block out your calendar to allow time for breakfast, lunch, and even a quick walk outside. This will ensure you don’t accidentally “work through” a meal or spend too much time staring at your screen. Your eyes, brain, body, and work will thank you.
A Multicenter Cohort Study performed in 2017 tested the effects of “micro-breaks” on the mental focus, pain and fatigue, and physical functions of surgeons. The results proved that those who took two-minute “micro-breaks” to stretch performed better and for longer than those who did not.
Taking no longer than 15-minute breaks (unless it’s lunchtime), every 90 minutes in the form of a short walk, completing a small chore, or even guided meditation will help boost productivity and are better for your overall well being.
It’s possible to combat and even “cure” burnout, but it begins with remaining mindful and regularly checking-in with yourself to stop burnout before it can even begin. Be aware of what you’re feeling, especially in these ever-changing times of discomfort and confusion and share those feelings with others. The best way to get through these tough times is together.