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Remotw workers burnout when managers can't keep an eye out for the warning signs.

Out of sight, out of mind? Protecting your remote workers from burnout.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What do you get when employees burn out at work? A mental health crisis, falling productivity, and soaring turnover. 

If that didn’t sound very funny, it’s because employee burnout is no joke. 

With huge sections of the population now working remotely, with the slew of benefits that can offer, you might think that employees are better positioned than ever to protect themselves from job stress, but that may not be the case. 

As telecommuting continues to blur the line between our professional and personal lives, work from home burnout is becoming more of an issue. So it’s time we talked about the steps managers can take to prevent remote work employee burnout before it gets out of hand.

How employee burnout impacts businesses and their staff

In 2019, WHO added burnout to its international classification of diseases, classifying it as ‘…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.’

Aside from its impact on individuals, the cost of burnout is astronomical, costing US businesses between $125 billion and $190 billion a year. In the UK, nearly 60% of employees feel burned out by work, costing British businesses roughly £26 billion in mental health and work-related stress costs, and a further £9 billion to transition 460,000 employees from work onto sickness and disability benefits as part of the turnover process. And those are just the traceable, direct costs. Given how stress and poor mental health damage engagement and productivity, it’s likely that the true price of employee burnout is even higher.

The causes of remote work employee burnout

Different jobs can be stressful for all sorts of reasons. But when it comes to WHF burnout, there are some common problems that can affect remote worker wellbeing. One of the most common issues experienced by telecommuters is a decline in work/life balance

This might sound odd, because ostensibly, the ability to work remotely should improve the amount of control someone has over their professional and personal lives. But a survey commissioned by LinkedIn found that four out of five HR managers believe that remote work is encouraging “e-presenteeism”. Additionally, their survey of office workers found that 86% report feeling the need to ‘prove to bosses they are working hard and deserve to keep their jobs,’ and that remote staff have been working an extra 28 hours of overtime a month since lockdown started.

This is supported by a poll commissioned by the hotel brand Novotel of 2000 UK employees who had been working remotely since lockdown began, which found that almost a third reported finding it more difficult to switch off from work, and a quarter report working longer hours from home.

Another aspect of remote work that contributes to its stress is the sense of isolation it can create. According to Novotel’s survey, almost half of respondents reported missing the social interaction normally involved in their jobs, and a third admitted that they struggle to motivate themselves away from the office. Aside from the toll that loneliness takes on our mental health, feeling isolated from your colleagues can also impact productivity, as you no longer feel like part of a team working towards mutual goals.

How to prevent burnout in your remote staff

After all the time we’ve spent hyping up remote work over the last few months, you might be shocked at how critical this article seems to be about it. But just to be clear, we love remote work. If implemented correctly, it really does have the potential to make careers more accessible while improving work/life balance. So here are a few considerations you can make to prevent remote work employee burnout in your organisation:

Trust your employees to work autonomously: We can’t stress enough just how important it is to have trust in the workplace. High-trust workplaces are happier and more productive, and that applies when the workplace is technically your living room too.

Micromanagement is frustrating at the best of times, and can often be the sign of an unconfident boss. Many employers are responding to the new emphasis on remote work by implementing performance management software that tracks clicks, mouse movements, and time spent different apps to give an idea of supposed productivity. But these tools can often be a source of undue stress for remote workers, who benefit much more from a results-focused approach that gives them the autonomy to do their best work.

Encourage staff to step away from their work: A major source of WHF burnout is when employees feel compelled to stay at their desks after hours. Even if you don’t have a lengthy commute cutting into your free time, it’s still important to know when to stop. Given that remote employees are racking up almost thirty extra hours overtime a month, a vital part of preventing remote work employee burnout is making sure your team members finish when they’re supposed to.

Keep your team members socially connected: Your employees probably miss getting to catch up with their colleagues, and this lack of connection can potentially even impact the work they do. So as a manager, it’s in your best interests to keep them interacting with each other. Firing up Microsoft Teams for a regular video stand-up can go a long way towards keeping everyone connected. Aside from allowing you all to stay on the same page in terms of objective progress, video calls also give people a chance to catch up and generally emulate face-to-face conversation.

Prioritise good mental health practices: 2020 has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, and that applies to telecommuters too. Supporting your staff’s mental wellbeing is absolutely essential for preventing remote work employee burnout. This is why good managers need to be emotionally intelligent, despite EQ being a so-called “soft skill”.

Establishing good mental health practice to prevent WHF burnout means providing access to educational resources, supporting struggling employees, and giving staff the flexibility to work around appointments or other serious obligations they might have. Unfortunately, mental health stigma is still alive and well today, so it’s essential for managers to lead the charge for better mental wellbeing from the top down.

To learn about keeping your staff engaged while managing their wellbeing, or to find out more about remote work, visit the Weekly10 blog today!

Did you know that Weekly10’s performance and feedback tools include dynamic meeting templates? So you can build your very own evidence-driven exit interviews at the click of a few buttons.

Head of People Science