Remote work burnout: How to spot the signs and protect your people
Updated 27th January 2022
Hybrid working blurs the line between our professional and personal lives. And burnout associated with working from home is becoming an issue. So what steps can managers 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. It's classified as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." It's characterized by three dimensions. Firstly, feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. Secondly, increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job. And lastly, reduced professional efficacy.
Aside from its impact on individuals, the cost of burnout is astronomical. It costs US businesses between $125 billion and $190 billion a year. In the UK, nearly 60% of employees feel burned out by work. It cost British businesses £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. 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.
Remote working should improve the amount of control we have over our professional and personal lives. But a survey found that four out of five HR managers believe that remote work is encouraging "presenteeism". It also found 86% felt they needed 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 2,000 UK employees who had been working remotely since lockdown began. It found that almost a third said it was more difficult to switch off from work. And a quarter report working longer hours from home.
Another aspect of remote work that contributes to burnout is the sense of isolation. 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 impacts productivity. That's because it's harder to feel like part of a team working towards mutual goals.
How to prevent burnout in your remote staff
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. Software that tracks clicks, mouse movements, and time spent on different apps are popular. But boy do they smack of distrust! They're often a source of undue stress rather than a motivator.
Encourage staff to step away from their work
A major source of work from home burnout is when employees feel compelled to stay at their desks after hours. It's still important to know when to stop. Given that remote employees are racking up almost thirty extra hours overtime a month, check in and make 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 will impact the work they do. So as a manager, it's in your best interest 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 enabling you all to stay aligned goals-wise, video calls also give people a chance to emulate face-to-face conversation.
Prioritise good mental health practices
The last few years have taken a toll on everyone's mental health. Supporting your staff's mental wellbeing is absolutely essential for preventing remote work employee burnout. That's why good managers need to be emotionally intelligent, despite EQ being a so-called soft skill.
Establish good mental health practices. Prevent remote work burnout by providing access to educational resources. Support struggling employees and give staff the flexibility to work around appointments or family life. Mental health stigma is still prevalent, so it's essential for managers to lead the charge.