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);
  • Presenteeism;
  • 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.

Bandeau Ressources humaines RH RCGT

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.

The symptoms

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;
  • Anxiety;
  • 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.

Discipline

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.

Balance

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 and spend time with your family and friends. Go out with the family in the evening, play with the kids in the park, eat out, 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.

Ergonomics

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 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.

Next article

On May 28, 2020, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) published COVID 19 – Related Rent Concessions (Amendment to IFRS 16) (hereafter “the Amendment’’).

The Amendment adds a practical expedient to IFRS 16 Leases which provides relief for lessees in assessing whether specific COVID-19 rent concessions are lease modifications. Instead, if this practical expedient is applied, these rent concessions are treated as if they are not lease modifications. There are no changes for the lessors.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating additional burden on entities all over the world. As a result, lessors may have provided or will be providing lessees with rent concessions. These can be in the form of rent holidays or rent reductions for an agreed timeframe (possibly followed by increased rentals in future periods).

In some jurisdictions, governments are making rent concessions a requirement, in others, they are merely encouraging them. However, they will have major impact for lessees, in particular, in the retail and hospitality industries where, in many cases, they have been forced to temporarily close their premises.

 

Next article

Employee health and safety is a major concern for all businesses. However, teleworking parameters are still not set in stone.

Organizations must have a firm grasp of the issues surrounding this relatively new practice and adapt their policies to include the risks associated with teleworking.

The Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety sets out certain basic employer (see section 51 of the Act) and employee (see section 49 of the Act) rights and obligations.

For example, employers must ensure employee protection and use the tools and methods required to identify and control risks. They must also inform their employees of any such risks.

Employees, on the other hand, must adhere to the prevention policies put in place by their employer and take the necessary measures to protect their health and ensure their safety.

Those general measures must be adapted and personalized according to the work environment and nature. The pandemic has sped up the telework practice and we need answers to some questions in order to meet the applicable legal obligations.

Why it’s important to have a telework management policy

A management policy must include all health and safety issues. It is key to defining the requirements of teleworking and helping implement prevention solutions.

All aspects of physical health and integrity must be addressed, including workplace set-ups and ergonomics.

Ergonomics

An employee’s home office must meet the same health and safety standards as the employer’s offices. Work furniture and equipment used must be of good quality and meet recognized standards in order to avoid musculoskeletal issues or accidents. Make sure to adjust the lighting so the computer screen does not reflect light.
You can learn more about the measures to follow by visiting the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and adapt them to your own work context.

Reporting incidents

Employees who work from home must report any discomfort or incident to their employer so the latter can offer a solution before things get worse. As an entrepreneur, you must make sure your employees have read and understood your policy and know who to turn to if there is a potential source of risk.

Psychosocial risks

Organizations must also take into account risk factors that could affect employee mental health, including isolation and issues such as keeping staff engaged and taking care of their employer brand.

At home, teleworkers are often by themselves. Interactions with co-workers rarely happen outside virtual meetings. They may feel like they’re losing their bearings or missing the bigger picture, which makes it harder to understand what’s going on even within their own team.

Employers must have the means—technological or other—to overcome those obstacles, promote interactions and detect distress signals, as applicable. For example, team leads should have access to the tools enabling them to detect psychological disorders in employees and to regularly keep in touch with them.

Methods of evaluation and risk control

In order to support teleworking and follow up on health and safety risks, entrepreneurs can put in place the measures adapted to their situation:

  • Have a self-evaluation form
  • Produce health and wellness surveys
  • Facilitate access for supervisors and managers
  • Give remote employees access to helpful resources (health and safety advisor, ergonomics advisor, psychological support consultation, etc.)
  • Include material resources or facilitate access to these resources (gyms, equipment, online resources)

There are still many elements that need to be clarified when it comes to teleworking and its risks. Current policies which were developed at a time when teleworking was still new, or barely existed, are being reviewed and adapted to better help employers and employees implement this new reality. The Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) is also reviewing how it can intervene in this particular context.

We encourage entrepreneurs to examine their own situation and be proactive in taking prevention measures for their employees and business.

This article was a joint collaboration with Mathieu Couture from MEDIAL.

Next article

The Grant Thornton International IFRS team has published COVID-19 – Accounting Considerations for CFOs: Events after the Reporting Period.

If the widespread impact of COVID-19 began during the entity’s reporting period, the impact will be reflected in its financial statements for that period.

However, to the extent that the widespread impact of COVID-19 occurred during the entity’s “subsequent events period” (i.e. the period between the end of the reporting period and the date when the financial statements are authorized for issue), management must determine how material developments after year-end should be reflected in the entity’s financial statements for the period under audit or review.

The publication COVID-19 – Accounting Considerations for CFOs: Events after the Reporting Period addresses the following questions:

  • When is COVID-19 considered a non-adjusting event?
  • When is COVID-19 considered an adjusting event?

The publication also provides examples of disclosures for both situations.