OHS Canada Magazine

Coping with work-from-home burnout during COVID-19

Time off, disconnecting aren't always most appropriate solutions


Burnout is exhaustion caused by stress or an unmanageable pace at work. (Getty Images)

Remote work became a new reality for many workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it brought flexibility and convenience for some, for many, working remotely has been stressful.

Work-from-home burnout is one of the many challenges caused by the pandemic.

Andrew Caldwell, HR advisory team lead at consultancy Peninsula Canada, says employers must continue to support their workers’ mental health and find ways to resolve and prevent burnout among remote staff.

What is burnout and why does it happen during remote work?

Burnout is exhaustion caused by stress or an unmanageable pace at work.

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During remote work, this may happen due to a lack of separation between work and one’s personal life, increased pressure from having to take care of dependants while working or from having an isolated work environment without sufficient support.

“Some people rely on having a physical workplace and personal interactions daily to stay focused and motivated at work. Constantly being at home alone when working can lead to decreased engagement, difficulty concentrating and cause workers to feel isolated,” explains Caldwell.

On the other hand, those who are not home alone may have difficulties balancing their work and family responsibilities. Workers who have dependents to take care of during work hours might end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Those who have roommates or large families might struggle from not have a place to work efficiently.

The changes brought on by remote work arrangements and the continuation of the pandemic might also be affecting workers’ lifestyle and habits, such as eating well, getting rest and exercising. This in turn can affect their well-being and contribute to burnout.

Identifying work from home burnout

“Managers can identify work from home burnout by looking for changes in workers’ performance. Reduced productivity and forgetfulness or changes in their mood such as irritability or a lack of engagement could be signs that an employee is struggling with remote working,” says Caldwell.

“Another way to identify work from home burnout is to regularly check in with workers. Employers can ask employees about their work experience and whether they need additional support or accommodation during remote work.”

While taking time off can give workers a break and a chance to recharge, it isn’t always the solution to burnout. Burnout is often chronic and caused by working conditions.

Without making changes to how they work, workers are likely to fall into the same patterns and experience burnout again.

Making an effort to disconnect

For some, the solution might be as simple as disconnecting outside of work hours. Managers should stress that workers stick to their pre-pandemic work routine even if they are working from home.

Those who are tempted to check emails and reply to messages outside of work hours can be advised to mute their notifications during off hours. It is important to draw and honour the boundaries between work and one’s personal life to avoid burnout.

The pandemic may seem like it is never-ending and cause some workers to feel like they are stuck in a rut. This can lead to apathy, disillusionment with their position, and a lack of motivation to get work done.

Maintaining work relationships and a sense of community

Management can support workers feeling this way by reengaging them with their work.

“This could be a conversation about the future of their career to set new goals and objectives for staff to work toward. Giving workers new tasks to replace old ones can also increase interest,” says Caldwell.

A good working environment and relationship with colleagues is one of the most important aspects in work satisfaction. Dealing with problems alone can heighten workers’ feelings of isolation, stress and contribute to burnout.

Staying connected virtually or in a safe environment when this is allowed can be very meaningful to some workers.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.


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