Reducing burnout in remote working

Luke Smith on recognising and mitigating burnout in the age of remote work

Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey revealed, “Nearly 70 percent of professionals feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organization.” This is probably because these employers have not acknowledged burnout as real and serious.  

In addition, 21% of respondents in the same survey agreed their company doesn’t have any programmes or initiatives to prevent or alleviate burnout. If companies don’t recognise burnout, they definitely aren’t creating anything to avoid or ease it.

Both of these statistics are difficult to digest because so many workers are plagued with burnout, whether their employers admit it or not. This is especially true among remote employees.

To help your employees avoid burnout, the first step is knowing the signs

Why burnout is so high among remote employees

Remote work is often seen as a dream for employees. They get to work where they want when they want. That flexibility and convenience are unmatched. However, the remote work setup has its downfalls – particularly the high risk for burnout.

For one, many remote employees fail to establish a work-life balance. For example, they may work from their beds in their pyjamas. They’re more prone to work through lunches and breaks. Intentional work hours are non-existent, which ends in them never clocking out.

That lack of balance leads to working constantly and, you guessed it, burnout.

In addition, being constantly on the clock can prompt physical health conditions. For example, remote employees are on the computer more often than most, inciting conditions like computer vision syndrome. Dry eyes, irritation, blurred, and double vision are common symptoms of this syndrome. Trying to work through these symptoms only makes an employee more stressed and burned out, decreasing their productivity and ability to perform.

If you want to help your employees avoid burnout, the first step is knowing the signs.

Know the signs of burnout first

Zocdoc reviews the World Health Organization’s three criteria for a burnout diagnosis:

  1. Overwhelming exhaustion and feeling depleted of energy
  2. Mentally distant from one’s job or increased negative feelings or cynicism towards it
  3. Not as effective in one’s professional role.

Keep in mind that the above criteria can also present themselves as chronic stress. And chronic stress can be responsible for persistent burnout. Simply put, they overlap in one way or another. So, be mindful of what chronic stress and burnout look like to best support your employees through them.

The following are also signs of burnout: low mood; lack of creativity; difficulty concentrating; high levels of anxiety; mood swings; detachment; being late; poor appetite and changes in sleep patterns.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of signs of burnout. However, if you notice your employees displaying a combination of the above for an extended time, they’re likely burnt out.

Four ways to mitigate burnout

Never having to experience burnout is the best-case scenario for your remote employees. The following tips can make this a reality.

Encourage frequent breaks

As mentioned, many remote employees work through breaks or fail to take them altogether. They’re just so easy to forget when facing a deadline or there isn’t a manager letting employees know it’s time to take one.

Breaks are vital in preventing burnout. They allow employees to quickly refresh their minds and bodies throughout the workday.

Encourage your remote employees to take frequent breaks. Better yet, schedule them for your remote employees and make sure they take them. A 15-minute break every couple of hours of work is a good rule of thumb.

Set intentional work hours

Not many employees will complain about the option to work whenever they want. But this can quickly become dangerous, as many remote employees work different daily hours. Without intentional work hours, creating the work-life balance necessary for less burnout is hard.

So, ensure your remote workers set intentional work hours. Even if they don’t work the same shift every day, they should still block off eight hours for work. That way, they’ll have set times to clock in and out, giving them the space to create balance.

Establish genuine relationships with your employees

When your employees don’t disclose their challenges with burnout, you can’t wholly support them. On the other hand, when your employees are transparent about their experiences with burnout, you can provide the support they need to get them through.

Ultimately, if your remote employees become burnt out or feel like they’re headed in that direction, you want them to come to you. Create a workplace environment that allows this, starting with establishing genuine relationships with your employees.

Get to know them personally and professionally. Have genuine conversations with them that establish trust. Assist them in their work and do what you can to stay connected despite differing locations.

The more authentic your relationships are with your employees, the more comfortable they’ll feel coming to you when something is wrong.

Don’t burn yourself out

Much of what’s suggested to help employees with burnout is about the employees. But it’s also so important for managers not to burn themselves out. In other words, you must lead by example.

Establish a work-life balance that you can sustain. Have open conversations about your experience with burnout. Don’t be afraid to open up about your mental health and how burnout has impacted your professional life. Take breaks and lunches with your employees. Take vacations and sick days too.

Avoiding burnout allows you to be the best manager you can be. More importantly, it shows your employees healthy ways to handle burnout.

Moving forward

Recognising and mitigating burnout in remote workers must be a top priority for managers. Make sure it is by following the advice above.

Luke Smith is a freelance writer

Luke Smith

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