73% of working professionals report feeling burnt out during COVID-19 (1).
More alarming is the fact that, according to the same poll, 61% of working professionals were already feeling burnt out in the weeks preceding the global onset of COVID-19.
That’s a strong indicator that many of your employees are probably at risk of burning out, and have been for some time.
Successfully mitigating your employees’ burnout risk requires better understanding burnout’s underlying causes. This is the crux: persistent and poorly managed workplace stress is burnout’s fundamental cause according to the World Health Organization.
Symptoms of workplace burnout include: a growing sense of exhaustion, increasing job pessimism, and diminishing productivity (2).
So whilst working from home might not be increasing your employees’ risk of burnout; it’s not reducing that risk either.
This is because combatting employee burnout requires the long-term and effective management of workplace stress - whether your employees are working from the office or from home.
Here are 3 things you can do now to combat burnout:
1. Understand urgent intervention is needed
Working from home can heighten the main triggers of workplace stress (3).
For many employees, this is the first time that they have so consistently and enduringly worked from home (4). In April 2020, the Office of National Statistics estimated that nearly 46.6% of the UK work force was working from home (5). Over 80% of them were doing so as a direct result of COVID-19, a sharp jump from December 2019 when a mere 5% of the UK workforce was working from home on a permanent or intermittent basis (6).
Triggers of burnout when working from home or the office can include:
The lack of a sense of control
Studies also show that our financial worries are on the rise (7). Worryingly, workplace stress compels many employees to prioritise their financial future over their mental health and wellbeing needs (8), with many employees attempting to prove their commitment and productivity by working all the time (4).
All of these factors point to an increasing risk of burnout, and an urgent need for intervention.
2. Appreciate that technology cuts both ways
Precisely the same technology that makes remote work possible makes burnout more likely.
Technology‐enabled, “always‐on” workplace cultures that make it difficult for employees to disconnect from work are closely linked to burnout (8).
Employees have brought all their workplace stress home with them: collapsing the healthy boundaries between personal and professional obligations that were helping them cope before the shift to working from home (4).
And the work from home challenge is not going away anytime soon, especially if the survey finding that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID proves correct (9).
Many of the solutions developed so far to reduce workplace stress and mitigate against burnout emphasise a physical separation between the home and the office (8). These solutions all revolve around the establishment, and maintenance, of now non-existent boundaries between work and personal time. So, they need to be rethought and adapted for the new work-from-home reality.
For example, you could encourage your employees to create and maintain home-based boundary-crossing rituals to help them transition in and out of work-mode (10). You could also reach agreement on clear temporal boundaries that accommodate individual working styles and different kinds of work (11). Then, take it a step further and follow up with any employee you observe routinely working outside of the agreed boundaries to encourage their mutual observance (8).
3. Invest in your employees’ mental health
The workplace is being transformed. However, many workplaces still revolve around in-person dynamics obliging remote workers to comply with traditional office hours and habits (12). With the shift to working from home, there appears to have been a wholesale transfer of employee obligations without an accompanying transfer of support structures.
It has long been clear that employees need more support from employers than they are currently receiving. However, with research now suggesting an average return of £5 for every £1 spent on the mental health of their employees, employers are well-advised to focus on mitigating employee-burnout rather than outdated productivity indicators (8).
Still worried about employees that may be on the verge of burnout?
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- Blind The Evolution of the Burnout - COVID-19 Edition.
- World Health Organisation Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases.
- BBC.com Worklife 101: Burnout.
- Harvard Business Review 3 Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout.
- Office for National Statistics Coronavirus and homeworking in the UK: April 2020.
- Office for National Statistics Coronavirus and homeworking in the UK labour market: 2019.
- The Atlantic This is Not a Normal Mental-Health Disaster.
- Deloitte Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment.
- Gartner Research COVID-19 Bulletin: Executive Pulse, 3 April 2020.
- Blake E. Ashforth, Glen E. Kreiner and Mel Fugate All in a Day's Work: Boundaries and Micro Role Transitions.
- Jonathon Cummings & J Espinosa & Cynthia Pickering Spatial and temporal boundaries in global teams: distinguishing where you work from when you work.
- Boundless Matt Mullenweg’s & Automattic’s Five Levels Of Remote Work.
About the author
Dean Ehrlich is a digital content editor at findcourses.co.uk. Originally trained as a lawyer, he converts jargon into human.