The novel coronavirus has resulted in millions of people staying in lockdown across the globe. Whether you are regularly required to physically report to work or have the luxury of working from home, COVID-19 has surely upended daily routines and changed work culture across countries.
With no end in sight yet, being stuck in lockdown and cooped up at home working daily can understandably lead employees, entrepreneurs, and freelancers to feel stressed out, anxious, and overwhelmed.
Workplace stress in the new normal is ultimately leading to burnout. In the era of social distancing, most people are thrown into the unknown but still expected to meet the same targets, handle heavy workloads, and quickly adapt to the new normal, which means coordinating with the team via online chat and video calls instead of face-to-face meetings.
At first glance, these may seem like we have found a way to make work more efficient; but in reality, this kind of setup can definitely take a toll on different aspects of employee health, including physical, mental, and emotional, and eventually lead to burnout.
In putting your wellness first during this global pandemic, you must recognize what stress and burnout look like and understand the reasons behind it. In acknowledging the feeling of burnout, you can then take immediate steps to manage and keep it at bay, build resilience, and continue to enjoy what life has to offer even amidst the ongoing crisis.
What exactly is burnout?
Have you been feeling like you are paddling against the current recently? Are you relentlessly overworked to the point of exhaustion yet feel like you are still getting nowhere? Or are you mentally and physically drained to the point where small tasks like taking a shower can feel like hard work? It may be time to consider that you are feeling burned out.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress and characterized by feelings of energy depletion and job-related negativism or cynicism and reduced professional efficacy. Even though most people are working from the comforts of their own home, burnout is very much around.
According to FlexJobs, 75% of people have experienced burnout due to work stress and demands, with 45% reporting that they’ve experienced burnout precisely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not surprising, given that people today are endlessly bombarded by a constant onslaught of problems, on top of working longer hours compared to the pre-coronavirus times.
Employee Benefit News also pointed out that burnout not only takes a toll on employee health and leads to other conditions, it can also cost employers around $125 to $190 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs.
How can you prevent work from home burnout during (and after) the pandemic?
Work from home burnout is something even people who love their job face. With hyper-digitalization, globalization, social media, and work-from-home setup, coupled with anxiety-inducing news about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, more and more people face burnout.
Aside from wearing you down or sapping your drive and energy, the negative impact of burnout will not only affect work productivity but inevitably spill over into different aspects, including both home and social life. Along with that, burnout can also have consequences to your health in the long run as it will make your body more susceptible to illnesses such as the common cold, cough, and flu.
Telltale signs of burnout
It is important to note that burnout is not always easy to identify, so it is essential to know the signs and catch them early to deal with it successfully and avoid the long-term effect. With that in mind, read through the common signs of burnout to help you recognize and spot it in yourself, friends, and family.
- Physical signs and symptoms
- Constantly feeling tired
- Frequent illnesses like colds, cough, and flu
- Headaches and stomachaches
- Intestinal issues
- Either increased or loss of appetite
- Change in sleeping habits—either more than usual or not enough
- Emotional signs and symptoms
- Emotional exhaustion
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm
- Increased self-doubt and sense of failure
- Loss of motivation and detachment from work
- Decreased productivity and reduced performance
- Increased negative outlook on life
- Lack of focus and creativity
- Easily triggered and losing their cool with family, friends, and co-workers
- Behavioral signs and symptoms
- Isolation from others, including friends, family, and co-workers
- Procrastinating to avoid doing work-related things
- Not reporting to work or avoiding meetings and calls
- Coming in late or skipping work entirely
- Coping with the situation by turning to drugs, alcohol, and/or food
High-stress work doesn’t necessarily lead to burnout—the risk factors stated by Very Well Mind include:
- Unreasonable deadlines – study shows that employees given enough lead time to finish their tasks and produce quality work are 70% less likely to experience burnout
- Intensely heavy workload – delegating too much work to employees can easily trigger stress, anxiety, and other overwhelming emotions that can quickly lead to burnout
- Poor communication and lack of support from managers – 70% of employees are reported to be less likely to suffer from burnout when they feel the genuine support of their managers
- Unjust treatment – employees should be treated fairly, without bias, discrimination, and unfair expectations, as they are 2.3 times more likely to feel burnt out in environments that condone mistreatment and discrimination
Quick intervention tips and tricks to prevent work burnout
According to Healthline, while stress is a fact of life, burnout is preventable. In the era of social distancing, when around 76% of employees are working remotely, most employees can’t really be “out of the office” since both work and home life have been merged—all done within the confines of the home.
You might be wondering, “How to prevent experiencing work burnout as a remote staff?” so check out these tips to try out:
- Set a time for yourself and block it off your calendar
Work can be stressful as it is, but it can be even more exhausting when you don’t take breaks in between to rest for a few minutes and take your mind off of work-related things. If you’re swamped, 30 minutes of rest will definitely go a long way. Make sure to block it off your calendar, so your co-workers don’t accidentally schedule a call overlapping your relaxation and alone time.
- Look for hobbies to take your mind off of work
Similarly, make sure to value work-life balance by exploring hobbies and interests to avoid giving in to the temptation to work on pending tasks after office hours and weekends. Some activities for me-time include pottery, painting, writing, and sports, among others.
- Turn notifications for work emails and chats off on weekends
Although we’re currently living in the digital age, no one should be available all the time, 24/7, as that kind of setup can easily be toxic. Clearly set your working hours and let your co-workers know the specific time when you’ll be “off the clock” and automatically switch off work-related notifications.
This way, you can establish boundaries and get back that sense of work-life balance even while working remotely.
- Eat healthy and workout
Juggling multiple projects and tasks for work can be tiring, especially during these challenging, uncertain times. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercising can help both your mind and body to recharge. There’s no need for expensive equipment—even as simple as going for a quick run can do wonders.
Besides working out, you must also eat a healthy diet, as this can help give you an emotional boost during the day.
- Get some much-needed sleep
One of the telltale signs of burnout is insomnia, so it’s important to fight it early on before it gets worse, as sleep is critical for your well-being. Not getting enough sleep can lead to severe consequences like hypertension and diabetes, along with the inability to get your mind functioning at its prime. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults need to sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours every night to function optimally.
Work stress is magnified during these times—doing business online and working remotely can be extremely exhausting and, if left unchecked, can quickly lead to experiencing burnout. Understanding and knowing the signs and symptoms of burnout can ultimately help in preventing or catching it early. Remember, with a work-from-home setup, one of the things to avoid or prevent burnout is to set boundaries and stick to it. It’s also crucial to note that there’s nothing shameful in reaching out for help from your family, friends, or even health experts. In turn, also find time to check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re doing okay mentally, emotionally, and physically during these trying times.