The pandemic has disrupted numerous work habits, and, in recent months, many of us have had no choice but to work remotely.
At this time, many workers still don’t know how long they will be have to continue to work virtually. While telework offers many benefits to both employers and employees, it entails risks that are all too often ignored. It is very important to know how to detect the warning signs in order to act quickly and avoid serious health problems.
The joys of telework?
Burnout and mental health issues are pervasive in the workplace. Despite the benefits of telework, such as the underlying flexibility, burnout and other health problems are likely to affect many people. We have been working from home almost every day for the past few months and managers are now faced with more complex situations and unchartered territory. On the one hand, they must ensure optimal and effective management from a distance, but on the other hand, they have to deal with employees who do not have the experience or abilities to work virtually. Discussions with entrepreneurs and business owners have revealed a lack of knowledge and a strong feeling of powerlessness in the face of this new and unique reality.
There is no doubt that working from home one to two days a week can be enjoyable and helpful. However, for many people, “full-time” telework is not necessarily an obvious or easy option. Furthermore, some individuals were previously in at-risk or special situations. Our analysis shows that people who are more vulnerable or have more difficulty adapting to changes in environment or methods will be more affected and experience more emotional and physical disruption.
Burnout: Are you at risk?
Burnout is a constant state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged and unresolved stress. Some of the causes of burnout include feeling “overwhelmed” by a demanding work schedule or the inability to cope with constant demands that keep piling up. The inability to adapt to new duties or other new “contexts” can also lead to burnout. Remember, anyone—entrepreneurs, business owners, employees, freelancers, etc.—can experience burnout.
According to a U.S. study, the many factors that predispose or lead to a burnout include overwork and longer hours in a telework environment. These factors can have many negative effects on individuals, such as:
- Significant increase in stress;
- Lack of free time (work-personal life balance);
- Unclear boundaries between work and personal life;
- Below average performance (lower productivity);
- Job dissatisfaction (staff turnover);
- Mental illness or depression;
- Physical health deterioration (absenteeism).
For managers, it is crucial to carefully monitor each team member to detect any early warning signs of a burnout and be proactive with the person in difficulty. Remember that, as an employer, you have a responsibility to provide an enjoyable work environment, even if this goal is more difficult to achieve from a distance. This principle also applies to workers: you must be aware of your environment and use all the strategies at your disposal to ensure your physical and mental well-being.
Here are some ideas that may help you in your new daily life as a teleworker.
Take advantage of flexible hours!
There are several benefits to working from home, including more flexibility. It’s up to you to take full advantage of these benefits. While you are supposed to follow a general work schedule, it should not be too rigid. It’s perfectly normal to play outside with your children, have lunch with friends, go out for coffee, etc.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in terms of your workload. When working remotely, you can set your own schedule and work at your own pace. If taking breaks helps you relax and recharge in order to bounce back, go ahead and do it. Occasional activities during work hours can also help you stay alert and maintain your productivity.
Take a few breaks
When working from home, some people tend to stay at their desks all the time and not take regular “short” breaks like they would at the office. You can easily become too absorbed in your work and end up working non-stop for hours at a time, which can eventually lead to burnout.
Take random breaks to get out of your chair: eat snacks, stretch when you start to feel cramped, go for a walk, do a mini workout or yoga. It’s recommended you take a short five-minute break every half hour to help you stay focused for a longer period of time and improve your productivity. A short break also gives your eyes a rest and helps prevent headaches.
One way to avoid burnout is to know—and be able to recognize—the potential and imperceptible warning signs that may arise. Some of the most common ones include:
- Less motivation regarding work;
- Irritability, sudden anger;
- Cynicism and frustration;
- Feelings of incompetence;
- A desire to isolate oneself;
- A sense of failure, low self-confidence;
- Difficulty concentrating, memory loss;
- Difficulty making decisions, confusion.
Burnout affects everyone, regardless of social background, age or job title. If you feel that something is wrong and you’re experiencing burnout symptoms, it’s time to change the way you work.
Do you feel like you’re always working outside the normal work schedule? Do you work evenings and weekends to make up for a heavy workload and an email backlog? That’s not normal.
You need to set your boundaries and provide a structure for your work. Here’s a tip: work in a “planned” way by setting time slots and sticking to them. If you don’t plan your workday, chances are you’ll work beyond regular hours, a situation that could potentially lead to burnout. In addition, if you feel your workload is excessive or greater than what you are used to managing, share your concerns with your manager.
Communication and interactions
Suddenly finding yourself working at home alone, without colleagues or social interaction, can create a sense of loneliness and isolation. Outgoing people who thrive on social interaction are particularly susceptible to this. However, working from a distance does not necessarily mean that you should stop communicating with colleagues, managers and other professional contacts.
Schedule video calls, call someone, chat with other team members to stay connected. You can discuss business issues, indulge in informal conversation and make jokes to relieve stress. Take advantage of the many technological tools at your disposal to exchange with your “external” professional network as well.
The right technology tools
Telework come with its share of challenges, including the potential for less team collaboration and more complex project management, which can increase employee stress. Using the right tools and equipment is crucial to making task management easier and collaborating with others effectively. Using outdated or inefficient technologies can hinder project progress and decrease users’ motivation.
Integrating proven project management and collaboration tools can make things much easier for employees. Whether it’s time management, task assignment, custom reporting, file viewing, the investment will be worth it, as it will improve efficiency and the overall work experience.
Without a doubt, another risk factor for remote workers is complete isolation. Don’t become a hermit. You’re already dealing with the absence of the usual social and physical interactions with colleagues.
Disconnect from work at the end of the day. Go out with the family, play with the kids in the park, eat out if possible, go running. Don’t let remote work invade your personal time. Ensure a work-life balance to keep your morale up and maintain your overall health.
Not everyone has a comfortable, ergonomically designed office at home. However, working at home should not mean working all day from the bed or couch. Spending long hours in an uncomfortable position will inevitably cause muscle tension. Perhaps your body is already telling you that it’s time to do something about it.
Also, regardless of whether or not your workstation is ergonomic, sitting in front of your computer for long hours is not recommended. Change positions and posture and, above all, take short breaks every hour. If necessary, set an alarm to remind you. Stand up, stretch and walk.
It goes without saying that an exclusive space solely for working from home can help define the boundary between your personal and professional life. It also lets your family members know that you have work to do and that frequent interruptions can affect your productivity. Whenever possible, don’t work in the bedroom or living room; these environments should remain rest areas.
Burnout is not something you catch, it’s something you experience.
Stay alert to the warning signs and follow the various tips. Develop a comprehensive “wellness” strategy to preserve your quality of life, both personal and professional, during this extraordinary period.
Remember that a good work-life balance and contact with colleagues and those around you, even virtual contacts, will help you cope with the challenges of working from home.
Would you like to be better equipped to support your management teams during these exceptional times? Are you concerned that some of your employees may be at risk of burnout? Contact our experts for valuable advice geared to your situation.