Newly working from home due to COVID-19? Yes, it can be more challenging than many of us had anticipated. The lack of physical cues that signal we are at a workplace, the absence of coworkers and management, the freedom of flexibility, the transitioning of an entire team or organization, the sharing of your workspace from home with your housemates, and dealing with the uncertainty of a global pandemic. These are just some of the many stressors that we are all facing for the very first time. It is absolutely no surprise many of us are feeling the powerful effects of workplace burnout right now.
Learn how to identify, prevent, and manage burnout while working from home.
Identify the Symptoms
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
Essentially, it’s the combination of emotions and reactions that result directly from being overworked and undergoing constant stress on the job. With the added layer of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic, burnout is becoming increasingly prevalent – and, understandably so. Don’t be upset or hard on yourself for not feeling like “you’re getting things right,” we’re all stumbling along this strange, steep learning curve that comes with such a widespread crisis. We’re all feeling isolated, confused, a sense of loss and grief, and panicked. Without question, these very valid feelings we are experiencing are affecting our work.
Uncertain if you are burning out? Take a minute to reflect and ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you feel your energy levels have been completely depleted or are depleting quickly throughout your work day?
- Do you feel a sense of negativity or cynicism about your job, your coworkers, or the organization you work for?
- Are you finding that your levels of productivity and output have diminished significantly and consistently?
- Are you experiencing a sense of frustration or helplessness when attempting to complete your work?
- Are you feeling more irritable than usual with work-related tasks or coworkers?
- Do you feel accomplished, proud, or satisfied when you complete tasks or projects at work – or are you struggling to find that sense of achievement you once had?
- How does your physical body feel? Are you experiencing any aches or pains that aren’t in your regular realm of “typical” body aches and pains?
Symptoms of burnout can vary greatly from person to person, and can manifest themselves both mentally and physically. So, be sure to check-in with yourself frequently and don’t ignore any signs. Keep track of your emotions and any physical feelings in your body that aren’t within your “norm,” and note these changes. The goal is to identify these symptoms as early on as possible and to implement prevention and management strategies to help keep burnout under control.
Prevention & Management
While there may not be a single, universal solution to prevent and manage burnout, there are more than a handful of strategies that you can experiment with to find which works best for you and your unique situation.
Identify the problem and determine whether or not there is a feasible solution. Although the state of the pandemic is completely out of our hands, are the other stressors that are affecting our work-from-home burnout something that we can control?
Here are some stressors that may be in our control and ways that we can resolve them effectively:
- Office environment – How is your work-from-home space set up? Is it separate from other members of your household? It is neat and organized? Do you have all of the essential supplies and equipment you need to get your work done? While everyone’s work-from-home environments will be different, is it possible to create a space that is your own, with minimal distractions? Find a designated space in your home that provides you with inspiration to get your work done. If possible, avoid areas with distractions or high-traffic areas for other members of the house (ex. a kitchen, living room).
- Stick to a schedule – People who work from home often find themselves working more than they would in a traditional office environment. There is this sense that we need to over-compensate and put in more hours, as we are in a more relaxed environment. Many people are also putting in more hours a week than they normally would, due to being self-isolated, with nothing else to do. You want to maintain as similar as a schedule as possible to your regular office schedule. Allow yourself time in the morning before work to “get ready” for your work day. Give yourself breaks throughout your work day, like your normally would in the office. Take time for lunch and for a “water cooler” chat over video chat or with a member of your household. It’s OK to take breaks to stretch your legs and give your mind a little rest. Don’t go turning on the TV or anything, but give yourself 5 to 10 minutes every few hours to take a brief pause from your work.
- Regulate your sleep cycles – Another reason why sticking to your regular work schedule is so important is that it affects your sleep schedule. Your body craves a consistent sleep schedule. So, when you are staying up later than you normally would and waking up way later, then your whole internal clock is out of whack. Grogginess and being overtired affects your productivity and your functioning at work. Keep yourself refreshed and healthy with a consistent sleep cycle.
- Exercise often and get outside – Being confined to our homes for days on end is suffocating. Some of us are lucky to have an outdoor space, which will prove to be very helpful for our mental health in the coming warmer, summer months. That being said, you do not need to have a backyard or balcony to better your mental health. Taking a walk every day in the fresh air, going on a jog, following a yoga class on YouTube, lifting some weights (or random, substitute objects you find in your home), are all great ways to energize your body and mind. In the summer months, try to get your exercise done outside (if possible) to give yourself a break from your home.
- Communicate how you are feeling to your coworkers and to management – If you are finding that something that used to work isn’t working anymore in a virtual office setting, let your coworkers and management know. Undoubtedly, there will be tons of kinks that your organization will face and may be trying to work out while transitioning to remote work life. If you have an idea to improve the functionality of a process or system your organization has in place, present it to the relevant person or group and pitch how to solve it. If your idea is implemented, it will not only better your situation, but potentially others who feel the same way.
Many of us are feeling the overwhelming effects of burnout while working from home. Be aware of the symptoms and check-in with yourself regularly. Identify the root of the problem and see if it’s something that is within your control and something you can fix on your own.
Be patient and kind with yourself right now. None of us are getting any of this right, right away. This is an incredible learning curve that we are all on and it’s going to take a whole lot of time to work it out. Don’t kick yourself for not being as productive as you normally would be. Don’t put yourself down if you feel like you couldn’t give your best for a project or task. It is completely OK to not feel like yourself right now (or even for a while) while working from home during this global health crisis. Reach out to others and surround yourself (at a virtual distance) with people who uplift you and provide you with the support that you need. Stay healthy and safe, and don’t forget to take care of yourself.