In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an official illness. It identified burnout as a serious health concern that can cause “increased mental distance from one’s job” and “reduced professional efficacy.” While experts said that it can be brought on in several ways, three of the biggest contributing factors include exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy for your job. And as it turns out, burnout is more common than most people think.
A 2019 study revealed that over 36% of respondents said they suffer from burnout every week. This manifests in stress (56%), exhaustion (44%), and anxiety (40%). Over 34% of employees take sick days at least every six months due to burnout and 55% have considered leaving their job due to lack of support for burnout. Thus, many employees are relieved that they can work at home during this pandemic, thinking that the comfort of their homes would lessen the stress they are experiencing.
However, recent studies showed that employees working from home could be more prone to burnout as they juggle multiple responsibilities at home and for work. Since burnout happens when a person faces elevated levels of stress over a long period of time, this can affect both their mental and physical health.
"With the suddenness and degree of the shift to remote work, the loss of childcare, and all of the worries that accompany the pandemic and its economic fallout, all of the things that typically cause burnout are intensified, which means the risk of burnout is intensified," Vanessa K. Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, said.
According to CNBC, the world leader in business news and real-time financial market coverage, a recent US survey revealed that 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing burnout while working from home during this pandemic. “Their home, which is normally a sanctuary and place to rest and relax with family, has instantly morphed into their office,” Vicki Salemi, a career expert, said.
Why Do People Experience Burnout?
Alana Acosta-Lahullier, 41, understands that feeling of burnout. According to her, she is exhausted all the time as she helps with the schooling of her 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son while she works from home full-time for an electrical contractor. “I am constantly on the verge of a panic attack,” Acosta-Lahullier said.
Acosta-Lahullier’s current situation is one of the many reasons why employees experience work-from-home burnout. Working from home means that you don’t have that tangible separation between work-life and home-life. One can’t just leave the office and go home to take that much-needed rest. As a result, it’s quite common that one might struggle to set boundaries for themselves and, therefore, find themselves working all the time.
According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, this new setup means there is no barrier between work and home. "What happens to most people when they are working from home is they often work more hours," said Ben Fanning, author of "The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love Without Quitting."
Experts also said that employees who are working from home feel overarching anxiety to do more, which could take a toll on your mental health and, equally, affect your work. Often, people feel that they are not being productive so they will try to work more, even if it means being exhausted all the time. Bohns explained that workers have an obsession with being the "ideal worker" that is always online and never turns down a project. "This tendency has also been exacerbated by the shift to remote work. We worry that people are going to think we are slacking off at home," she said.
When you work from home, you’ll likely have to take phone calls and sign into video meetings every now and again in order to stay connected with your managers and colleagues. While this kind of communication is important as it keeps everyone updated with work, this can also be exhausting. Employees must still treat these meetings as in-office meetings, meaning they can take a break and talk if it’s absolutely necessary.
Avoiding Work-From-Home Burnout
The COVID-19 pandemic might have amplified pressures that unintentionally make it hard for supervisors, colleagues, and employees to maintain boundaries between work and rest. A study, for instance, revealed that employees still send work emails outside office hours. The researchers found out that senders of after-hours work emails underestimate how compelled receivers feel to respond right away, even when such emails are not urgent.
According to Harvard Business Review, a general management magazine published by Harvard Business Publishing, one of the ways to avoid experiencing burnout during this pandemic is to maintain boundaries when working remotely. Experts say that you can replace your previous morning routine of commuting to walking to a nearby park or even just around your apartment, before sitting down to work. You can also put on working clothes just to feel like you’re in the workplace.
Joti Samra, a Vancouver-based psychologist and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, a consulting firm that aids businesses in supporting employee mental health, said that it would also be helpful to create a schedule for yourself to signal your brain when work is over. Make sure that you have differentiated between a workspace and space for you to relax in your home.
“If you have little kids, it’s a little bit more of a challenge. We can still teach them visual cues… You can leave a little clock or a timer that you put on your door that lets them know ‘I’m unavailable right now,” she said.
Bohns also suggested establishing clear boundaries like not working at night or on the weekends to clearly define your free time. "Institute other types of physical boundaries through routines, like exercising before beginning or ending work, or during your 'lunch break,' taking regular coffee breaks in a different location in your home, and chatting with a friend or watching a video during that time," she added.
Rahaf Harfoush, a Canadian workplace expert, said that companies should also not expect employees to be as productive. “Revisit goals and accomplishments this quarter and see if they are still attainable. There’s been a lot of anxiety, fear, personal situations, and economic turbulence. The idea that [employees] will be unaffected by that just because they are home is just crazy,” she said.