The coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption and fundamental changes in the way we work—and these are still ongoing over one year later.
If like us you have long since been relegated to your home office, you might be feeling exhausted and burned out, but you might not understand why.
After all, working from home is so much better than working from the office: there’s no tedious and packed commute to endure; you can get out of bed much later; you’re not rushing between meeting rooms; and you have complete, unjudged access to your favourite snacks.
So, what’s with the burnout?
What is Work-From-Home Burnout?
Work-from-home (WFH) burnout is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a general feeling of exhaustion and demotivation when it comes to doing your job. It might cause you to feel irritable or anxious, and your work performance might suffer as a result. Some may also suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches or trouble sleeping.
WFH burnout means that even though working from your home office is, in theory, easier, you might find it much more difficult to get out of bed and face the working day than you would if you were still working from the office.
Why Does It Happen?
There are many reasons why you or other members of your team might suffer from WFH burnout and fatigue.
It often arises when people are unable to keep their work life and home life separate. This is something that has been made especially difficult by the pandemic. After all, there’s no shortage of examples of people who have been suddenly thrust from the office to hastily put together kitchen tabletop workspaces.
Pair this with the fact that we live in a connected world—people find it difficult to know when the workday ends and when their personal time begins as a result. Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of seeing a work-related notification come through to our phones outside of working hours and immediately responding to it.
This feeling of constantly being “on” can make people feel drained and burned out, especially in the current work-from-home climate where just one more email can easily turn into hours of excess work. Some are so impacted by it that it’s difficult for them to think about anything other than work, and that’s when burnout—a chronic form of fatigue—can start to set in.
How to Recognize Work-From-Home Burnout
Work-from-home burnout might be tricky to spot during the pandemic. Not only are we all working remotely, but we’re all facing differing degrees of disruption, stress, and emotional problems.
Real, consistent burnout doesn’t go away quickly, and if someone on your team is suffering from it signs will begin to show. Signs to look out for in employees include:
- Work not being completed on time
- Mood changes, irritability, sadness, anger, frustration
- Spending more time off with sickness
- Inconsistent working hours (e.g., working in the middle of the night)
- Expressing symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest in social events
- General apathy towards their work and the company
It’s a good idea to watch out for these in yourself, too.
5 Ways to Help Your Team Beat WFH Burnout
As the world continues to trundle along in the new pandemic era, with no confirmed end in sight to widespread working from home, here are five ways you can help your team beat WFH burnout:
1. Schedule Fewer Meetings
Think about the number of meetings that you scheduled each week prior to COVID and compare this to the number of virtual meetings that take place each week now. Is this number higher? If it is, that’s a bad sign.
We’ve seen many companies go completely over the top with meetings in a scramble to keep control. Unnecessary meetings alienate employees and they are a sure-fire way to induce burnout.
We’re not saying that meetings aren’t important, but are they all really necessary? Try substituting certain meetings with detailed emails and memos instead or combine meetings that are repetitive. Fewer meetings give your employees more space to rest, recover, and focus on their work.
2. Bring Back Phone Calls
Video conferencing has exploded in popularity since the onset of COVID. But getting a break from scheduled Zoom discussions might be a step in the right direction and be a refreshing change of pace for your employees.
Phone calls and conferences are entirely different tasks for our brains. Instead of having to split our attention between various people speaking, shared screens, and video feeds, phone calls shift the focus to a single person’s voice. On top of this, a 9 am phone conference call means that you can spend a little more time in bed before joining it in your pyjamas without fear of judgement.
It’s the little things, after all…
3. Encourage Micro-breaks
You should allow your team to take micro-breaks, especially between meetings. In the office environment, for example, meetings don’t tend to start and end on the hour or half-hour, especially if there are back-to-back ones scheduled. Take the same approach with your virtual team meetings by allowing 10 to 15 minutes between each one.
It might also be helpful to re-evaluate the length of your meetings. Could some of them be trimmed down from 60 minutes to 45 or 50 minutes? These extra 10 or 15 minutes gives everyone the opportunity to take a breather without feeling rushed to make the next call.
4. Offer Flexible Working
Working from home might be seen as flexible, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Some companies, for example, insist (and even mandate) that their employees must sit at their computers during X and Y hours. No exceptions. Just like in the physical office.
The average workday is now one hour longer than it was before the pandemic. While the nature of some peoples’ jobs means that tasks and decisions need to take place synchronously, you should consider whether everyone needs to work at the same time.
Allowing flexibility where possible will allow your employees to manage multiple responsibilities better while also bringing about a higher degree of comfort and general happiness for them.
Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean that employees can work whenever they choose to. You are free to set the rules. Even a small change such as allowing people to start and finish +/- 2 hours around the company’s core business hours can make a big difference.
5. Check in On Your People
Not all of your employees are going to be open about how they are doing and what they need.
While employee burnout usually does lead to noticeable changes, this doesn’t always happen. Lots of people suffer in silence, and it may well be the case that some members of your team are having a really hard time while you are none the wiser.
It’s always worth speaking to your team members on a one-to-one basis and hearing what each person has to say before making fair and appropriate accommodations for individual situations and needs.