COVID-19 and Remote Worker Burnout

Stressed young female professional at laptop

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people have made the transition to remote work, many of them for the first time in their careers. In fact, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom states that 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full-time.

The compounding factors of the pandemic, having children home from school, worry about employment, health and community have all taken their toll. Concerns of downsizing and increased pressure to continue to be a top performer while working from home lead some employees to put in what feels like 125% while working remotely. Many are finding it difficult to “log off” from work and regain the work/life balance they may once have had.

In the beginning, setting up a home office felt temporary and the proper foundations may not have been laid. However, as the pandemic continues, what was once thought to be a temporary solution now appears to be here for the long haul, and many employees are struggling to set boundaries between professional and personal lives.

“For some of us, blurring work and personal life are normal things, but a lot of people have been thrust into this environment and there are major challenges,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory

Remote work has its own set of challenges, including:

  • Carving out a place to work
  • Dealing with frequent interruptions
  • Prioritizing the work to be done
  • Staying motivated and maintaining productivity
  • Fighting feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Communication and collaboration hurdles with remote teams
  • Technology struggles such as finding reliable Wi-Fi
  • Leading a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle
  • Working too much

I started working from home in March and felt even more productive than I had in the office. However, lately, it seems that my productivity is waning. I am just plain tired. Given the daily worries of Covid-19, frequent interruptions from well-meaning family members, struggling to do quality work and doing all I can to keep my business afloat, it is all become a bit too much. Some days it seems like everyone needs a different piece of me – and there is just not that much to go around. One day rolls into the next and the days fly by in a mix of work, worry and weariness.

I am not alone. While the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating burnout in health care professionals, they are not the only ones experiencing this phenomenon. With the compounded stress brought on by our current situation, workers in every industry are struggling with feelings of burnout.

“Burnout is when somebody just feels depleted from doing the task at hand,” says Alice Domar, PhD, Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. “It happens when the demands being put upon you exceed the resources you have. The tank is empty.”

Signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling totally exhausted
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Lacking the energy to be consistently productive
  • Dreading the start of your workday – every day
  • Becoming impatient with co-workers and clients
  • Knowing that you are not putting in the effort to do your best work
  • Feeling physically unwell – full of anxiety, frequent headaches, inability to sleep at night or other physical complaints
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better

Ella Dawson spoke openly in a personal essay of feeling “a boiling resentment of everything that asked for my energy: my job, my friends, my relationship, even my own body.” I have recently been feeling the same way – limited in energy, yet overflowing with requests for my opinions, my time, my presence.

Does this sound familiar? If so, what can you do to recover and regain balance in your life?

First, understand that these are special circumstances. Give yourself grace as you deal with the many emotions you are feeling. Consider adopting some of the following strategies to make it through this uncertain time.

  • Set boundaries - The office used to provide us with a framework of work hours. Although some came in early and other left late; we did not sleep where we worked. Having our offices just outside our bedroom door – or for some of us INSIDE our bedroom – can lead to adopting unhealthy work hours. Set your working hours, and let your team and clients know.
  • Practice self-care. I have said it before, and I will say it again. Self-care is a must. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty pitcher.”
  • Prioritize work and tasks. It always seems that there is so much to do. Whether or not that is reality, or an illusion, it helps to prioritize items on your to-do list. And if you are paralyzed by indecision because there are SO many things on that list? Asking for help in understanding priorities can be a lifesaver.
  • Stay connected with your remote team. In the beginning, Zoom calls were eating up a large portion of my every day. I became frustrated with the amount of time we spent talking about the work that needed to be done, rather than simply doing it. But I have come to realize that the face-to-face conversations with team members is so important – if nothing else than to remind us that we are not alone.
  • Talk to team members about prioritizing mental health. Make a “no conference Friday” rule and stick to it. Instruct team members to take a mental health day when needed, or even a mental health morning. Close the virtual office a few hours early one day and give everyone time to take care of personal tasks.

According to a recent Gallup poll: Three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible once public health restrictions are lifted. To do so as healthfully as possible, we, as a remote workforce, need to set guidelines to help prevent burnout.

I'll be working on regaining a more balanced work/home life and wish the same for you - take care of yourself!

It is important to note that the symptoms of burnout may also be related to health conditions, including depression, so it is important to talk to your physician or a mental health provider to get a proper diagnosis.


By Kris Powers | July 21st 2020

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