Since the first outbreak of COVID-19, an increasing number of companies have encouraged their employees to work from home.
Yet being forced to work from home can cause many employees to develop burnout symptoms.
This article explains why working from home leads to burnout, and outlines some of the measures you as an employee can take to prevent this from happening.
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Why does working from home lead to burnout?
Burnout caused by remote working is referred to as “telework burnout,” and is becoming increasingly widespread.
“Burnout” was originally used to describe a state of apathy experienced by school students or company workers who had devoted themselves entirely to completing a major project or achieving a major goal and, after completion, were liberated from excessive stress.
Telework burnout has been on the rise since around 2020. A survey carried out in August 2020 indicated that 58% of workers had experienced burnout symptoms—some 15% higher than a similar survey carried out in March the same year.
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Burnout symptoms and the causes of remote work burnout
Remote work can lead to burnout for a number of reasons:
1. It can be difficult to switch off
Working the standard 9 to 5 at the office ensures there is a clear physical and temporal separation between “work” and “home.”
When working from home, however, this separation becomes blurred, making it difficult for employees to differentiate between “work time” and “private time.” Increased inability to compartmentalize the two is a common burnout symptom.
2. Employees feel pressured to deliver results
COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns have resulted in large numbers of workers losing their jobs.
For this reason, many employees feel compelled to deliver results, or else face being made redundant themselves—and this gives rise to an undefined yet persistent anxiety.
3. Focusing on work can be problematic
Many people working from home are forced to share their workspace with their family; in such circumstances, it is no easy task to maintain the same focus and productivity as when working at the office.
Some employees will find it hard to prevent household chores and child-raising obligations from creeping into what should be work time. If an employee has to carry out housework, look after children, and drive members of their family around, it is only natural their work efficiency will drop off.
And, if employees cannot finish their work within the allotted time, they will be forced to continue working until it is finished.
4. Work becomes the only point of social interaction
When employees are required to stay indoors and work remotely, there is a risk that work becomes their only point of contact with society.
For some employees, interactions with non-family members may be limited to work emails—and in such cases, many of them will end up looking at work emails even when they are no longer supposed to be working.
How employees can prevent remote work burnout
Here are two ways that you, as an employee, can prevent remote work burnout:
1. Deliberately separate “work time” and “private time”
When working at the office, there is a clear physical and temporal separation between “work” and “home,” but this can be difficult to replicate when working from home.
It is therefore important that you deliberately separate your “work time” and your “private time.” When teleworking, you can work in your pajamas; however, changing into work clothes can help you switch mentally to “work mode.”
It can also be effective to establish routines such as walking around your local park, as a substitute for commuting. Playing music or stretching after this “commute” has finished is also a positive behavioral pattern that can help you make the switch from “private time” to “work time.”
2. Identify times when it is easy to work
Working at the office offers a clear separation between “work time” and “private time,” but such a separation is absent when working from home.
Some of you will have to carry out housework or look after children during what should be “work time,” requiring you to temporarily stop working. Instead of fixing rigid times to start and finish work, you may benefit from being more flexible.
Find the times when it is easiest for you to work, and create environments that help you focus—by recording automated voicemail messages and turning your phone off, for example.
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How companies can prevent remote work burnout
Here are two ways that companies can prevent remote work burnout:
1. Assess employees not on how long they have worked, but on their performance
If employees know their work is being properly evaluated, and that their remuneration is commensurate with their contributions, it can help prevent burnout.
For this reason, one effective method is for companies to evaluate employees not on how long they have worked, but on their performance.
Companies can increase the motivation of employees who have performed particularly strongly by publicly recognizing their efforts during departmental meetings, or by commending them via company social media and other communication tools.
2. Ensure that managers communicate carefully with their teams
Compared to when working together at the office, managers and their employees tend to communication less frequently during remote work, and this can make it trickier to notice employee burnout symptoms.
To combat this, managers can set up one-on-one meetings, encourage their employees to share any worries they may have, and provide appropriate feedback.
Regular employee engagement surveys are also an important way of gauging employee health and stress levels, and of understanding how motivated and fulfilled they feel toward their work.
Communication between employees and their managers is essential to prevent remote work burnout
Compared to when working together at the office, employees are liable to communicate less frequently with their colleagues and managers when working from home.
It can be difficult to switch between work mode and private mode and, even when they should be in private mode, many employees will feel unable to escape from their work.
Managers must ensure they remain in frequent communication with their employees so that they can detect early signs of burnout symptoms and take the appropriate action.
Robert Half is a specialized recruitment agency in Japan that connects highly skilled, bilingual talent with globalized companies based in Japan and overseas. If you are an organization wishing to recruit outstanding talent, or if you are a manager struggling to develop your human resources, our recruitment specialists can help you.