08/11/2020 Jeni Kramer

Feeling the burn(out)? Tips for combatting remote work fatigue.

Though many businesses have reopened, many of the country’s office workers are still performing their jobs remotely. For many, the novelty of donning sweatpants and slippers all day every day has long since worn off and the fatigue that comes from nearly six months of this new normal is settling in.

According to a recent Monster survey, 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing burnout while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. A variety of factors can contribute to this feeling; from the suddenness of the shift to remote work, the possible loss of childcare, financial difficulty, health concerns, or any of the myriad other concerns that accompany a global pandemic.

While every worker is facing a unique set of circumstances that makes long term remote work challenging, there are several common threads. Here are some of the main reasons workers may be experiencing work from home burnout, and some ideas on how to combat them.

Disappearing boundaries

Work-life balance is a notion that seems downright quaint in our current reality. The built-in dividers created by work happening at work (not to mention school happening at school) kept our lives in more neatly sorted compartments. Now the lines between work and home are incredibly blurry. When all of our major roles in life converge, collide and compete for our attention nearly every minute of every day, it’s tough to figure out how to sort it all. But finding some semblance of balance and division between work life and home life is more critical now than ever.  

Start by setting a schedule that allotts time for work, family or whatever else needs to fit in; and be militant about keeping it. The routine will help ease a busy brain, and sticking to the schedule will ensure that work doesn’t unintentionally overshadow other priorities. Also, consider some other elements to play up the division between work and non-work time – like changing out of “work clothes” when your day is done, or having a separate office space within your home that you leave when you’re “off the clock.” And, whatever you do, close your laptop!

9 – 5 or 24/7?

One reason some people are tired is because they’re working more hours. Fast Company recently reported that remote workers are logging an additional 3.13 hours per day working from home, with those who say they’re “significantly more productive at home” logging 4.64 extra hours daily.

With millions of Americans out of work now, employees are often driven to put in extra hours in the name of job security. Many feel the pressure, whether real or imagined, to put in extra hours to show they can maintain high levels of productivity while they’re working from home.

The best way to combat this is to level-set expectations with your superiors. Duties and responsibilities may have shifted or changed with the move to remote work, so ongoing, frank conversations about expectations as well as your own bandwidth ensure everyone is on the same page. It can be scary to advocate for yourself in such tumultuous times, but it’s likely your employers will appreciate such a proactive approach.

A full plate

While we are spending more time at home than ever, many are busier than ever as well. It can feel like every bit of mental energy is expended dealing with work, homeschooling children, keeping yourself and your family members safe and happy; all while juggling concerns about the pandemic, social justice, the election, and other issues that affect society at large. These things pile up quickly, and leave us overwhelmed and exhausted.

Juggling so many different responsibilities and worries is especially difficult for those prone to perfectionism. When you hold yourself to high standards, it isn’t easy to cope with situations where giving 100% to every task and responsibility isn’t possible. In a society that often judges us on performance, feeling as though we’re not the best worker/parent/partner/caregiver we can be can  lead to anxiety or even depression. 

It’s important to be gentle with yourself. Recognize when you’re doing your very best, and don’t beat yourself up if some things fall by the wayside. Actively take breaks from known anxiety producers like news and social media when needed. Consider establishing a mindfulness practice, like meditation, to foster calm and reduce external “noise.” Don’t hesitate to ask for help with childcare or other responsibilities, if that’s an option, or reach out if you’re concerned about your mental health. Don’t be afraid to seek the support you need!

“Self care” – what’s that?

In response to stressful situations, people often do the opposite of what is needed to stay healthy.  We may tend to stay up late, skip exercise, or overindulge in anything from junk food to alcohol. While these things may provide immediate relief, in the long-term they detract from our ability to cope. Bad habits also potentially put our physical health in jeopardy at a time when it is risky to do so.

It’s all about finding coping mechanisms that enrich, rather than deplete you. Go for a walk, talk to a friend on the phone, read a book, take a bath, do some yoga, take a nap – healthy alternatives to quick-fix indulgences can go a long way to renewing your body and mind. Build time into your schedule for self-care and honor that as you would any other commitment.

Social connection. (No, not Zoom)

Video Conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and others have become a bit of a double-edged sword. While they’ve allowed us to remain connected during this fractured period, many people are feeling fatigue from our reliance on these tools. Humans are social animals, and we crave contact that doesn’t occur through a screen. Even for those quarantining with family or loved ones at home, the social connections we forge in the workplace are sorely missing from remote work life. 

Though the pandemic requires our vigilance and responsibility now more than ever, we have learned that there are some safe ways to get a much needed dose of human connection. With social distancing precautions top of mind, think of ways you can safely interact with friends or family outside of your immediate household. A socially distanced coffee date in a park may be just what the doctor ordered. Seeing a face you haven’t for awhile can do wonders, even if it’s from 6 feet away. Just don’t forget your masks!

Grief

It cannot be understated that what we are experiencing in this moment in society is profoundly difficult and traumatic. Though it tends to be frequently overlooked, grief is another factor contributing to exhaustion. Whether or not we realize it on a conscious level, we are all experiencing loss. Whether it’s loss of the life we knew, important events and milestones, our sense of control, or whether we are dealing firsthand with the loss of human life and health caused by COVID-19; so much loss at once can be disorienting. 

There is no quick fix for this one, though it can help immensely to simply recognize this emotion for what it is and allow yourself to experience the feelings that go along with grief. 

Taking the steps to combat burnout can feel like one more item on an already massive to-do list, but you should not underestimate the importance of getting ahead of the issue before you crash and burn. Sadly, there is no one-size-fits all solution to the issue of burnout – you’ll have to experiment to find what works for you. But taking the time to address the issue now can increase your overall well-being, while making you a happier, more productive worker.

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