7 Tips to Avoid a Work from Home Burnout

In a matter of a couple weeks or a couple days in some cases, millions of professionals made the transition from working in a fixed office or shared coworking space to working from home (WFH). Many wake up to countless emails, urgent business issues and deadlines, and calls at all hours of the day or night. This new WFH normal is proving difficult for these workers who are feeling burnout due to the physical and mental rigors—and WFH may continue for several months and even return again later in the year in the case of a resurgence of COVID-19.

Understanding Work from Home Burnout

Burnout is not something that happens overnight. Rather, burnout is a slow depletion of energy over time. With many businesses operating in crisis mode, employees are expected to pick up extra slack—logging more hours and being always on. When this is combined with escalating personal and financial worries, which is certainly the case in the COVID-19 WFH world (kids at home who are supposed to be studying online, spouses who are also WFH or even unemployed), the possibilities of burnout increase. Workers who previously did not WFH often are unable to create boundaries between work and personal life at home. Little sense of time off is left as afternoons blend with evenings and weekdays blend with weekends. As Ali Pattillo in an article in Inverse notes, “Keeping up a breathless pace isn’t sustainable.”

The upside for all of the businesses that suddenly find themselves with a workforce that is WFH and workers who previously went to a fixed office location and/or shared office space on a regular basis is that growing numbers of businesses and workers are successfully WFH. In many cases, their lessons learned and best practices can be quickly and easily adopted by businesses and workers to which WFH is a foreign concept. 

Tips on How to Avoid Work from Home Burnout

So, what are some tips that remote staff can use to avoid WFH burnout? Let’s take a few that small businesses and their remote employees can use to stay engaged and avoid WFH burnout. 

1. Create a Routine.

Professionals need to create routines at home that orient both themselves and family/household members that it is time for them to work. These might include activities such as getting showered and dressed for work (remember video conferencing is the norm and more effective), reading the news, eating breakfast and getting coffee, and scheduling meetings throughout the day. Once the workday is finished, professionals need to avoid answering email and phone calls—outside of those that are emergencies. 

2. Stay Connected.

Connecting with other coworkers, mentors, former colleagues, and other people in a professional’s life can help recharge the energy in their batteries. These network connections can empathize with your work state as well as provide ideas and encouragement. 

3. Maintain Physical and Social Boundaries.

People often demarcate the transition from work to home and home to work by crossing certain boundaries. For those who have not WFH before, this is difficult because they no longer put on and take off work clothes and leave the house for work and return to the house from work. Enacting these boundary-crossing activities can help workers to transition between work and personal routines. 

4. Create Temporal Boundaries.

While sticking to a 9-to-5 schedule may be unrealistic, workers need to mark off sections of the morning, day, and evening for personal time. It might be an hour in the middle of the day when their children need direction on their homework, time cooking dinner with a spouse or partner, or an afternoon walk or tea/coffee time to decompress. These clear temporal boundaries will help workers to detach themselves from work and avoid WFH burnout.

5. Focus on Priorities.

With many businesses in crisis mode, everything can seem like a priority. Professionals can get “nibbled to death” dealing with these throughout the day and fail to focus on what is truly most critical. Blocking off time to work on these critical projects is important and will help workers to defragment what can sometimes be chaotic workdays. Research shows that the average employee is only productive for about three hours every day, and workers need to ensure that they optimize every minute for optimal output. 

6. Check the News Only Once or Twice a Day.

The velocity of the COVID-19 news cycle can exhaust nearly anyone. When professionals are plugged into news sites that flash updates every five minutes, they can quickly become distracted. These distractions can add into hours of lost time—whether reading news stories or communicating the latest headlines to family and friends. Instead, professionals should set up one or two times during the morning, day, or evening for consuming news.

7. Make Time to Exercise.

The mental agility and power of a professional is directly connected to physical regimen—namely, the time one takes exercise. At a bare minimum, every professional should get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily five days a week. Beyond living a healthier and longer life, why is this important? Research shows that exercise increases the productivity of workers. One way is through the stimulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor protein that boosts alertness. A second way is through the production of serotonin that helps one feel better and improves your state of mind. 

Watch for the Signs of WFH Burnout

There certainly is a whole host of WFH benefits, and research backs it up. The number of companies still clinging to the concept of a workforce that comes to a physical office every day and sits in an assigned seat every day is becoming small and smaller. Yet, WFH burnout is very real and something that businesses and workers need to watch out for. A recent article on Ladders spells out seven burnout signals that workers need to heed:

1. You find yourself working around the clock

2. You procrastinate now more than ever

3. You feel like you have no one to whom you can turn when things go south

4. You feel an overarching anxiety to do more

5. You check your email notifications like clockwork

6. You allow meetings to run well past their delineated time blocks

7. You stop “adulting” together (you don’t get dresses, don’t really make your bed, etc.)

A “yes” answer on two or more of the above means it is time for you to institute some new rules and processes on how you work from home. If not, burnout might be right around the corner—which is something that neither you nor your employer can afford to happen, especially during the COVID-19 economy when everyone needs to be on the top of their game. 


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