Burnout printed on burning background

Burned Out From Working From Home? Here’s How to Fix It.

Last year, we wrote about how the World Health Organization had officially classified “Burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis beginning in 2020.   Since our post last year, COVID-19 has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in working by moving huge segments of the work force to work from home.  Has that change in work environment resulted in more burnout or less?  Do people get burned out from working from home? 

Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.  Last year a  Gallup study  of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always.   In high stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher.   For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%.   But, burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

The number of people working from home had been steadily growing anyway, but with COVID-19 the percentage skyrocketed. In 2017, 5.2% of US adults worked from home on a regular basis.  In March, 2020, that number had grown to 51% of employed US adults according to a Harris Poll in early April. It’s likely that the work at home number has receded somewhat as employers reopened offices, though the recent spikes across the country in COVID cases may send more workers back home.  Regardless, many Americans’ are still working from home and it’s likely that a significant number of them will continue to work from home even after the pandemic is in our rear view mirror. (Yes, eventually the pandemic will be behind us!)

What is burnout? 

With so many of us working from home, we wondered whether burnout is more or less of an issue than it was a year ago?  To answer that question, let’s first understand what we mean by burnout.  According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations. 

It’s important to note that burnout is not just a mental health issue.  Major health risks that have been associated with job burnout include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Is home a “breeding ground” for burnout?

A recent article by Natasha Hinde in the Huffingtonpost in the U.K. explored the issue of burnout for those working at home.  Hinde found that with “working from home the boundaries between work and personal lives are increasingly blurred. When your laptop is always within reach, it’s all too easy to check emails at 9 or 10 PM and easy to skip lunch when you’re buried in a project.”

“Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day,” says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. “There’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by traveling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work.

“Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”

Psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, doesn’t think people know they can burn out while working from home – “people usually see it as a more relaxing work day, where they can do work at their own pace” – which might mean they’re hurtling headfirst into it.

How to Prevent Burnout

In another blog from last year we wrote about how to prevent burnout.   Our advice last year holds true today regardless of where you’re working.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.  Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  Look into the many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

In the Gallup study on stress and burnout quoted earlier, employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

6. Keep good health habits

The same basic advice that will help in relieving stress is also true for burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

To this list, Hinde adds one more piece of advice that is specific to working from home:  setting boundaries.  “Create a specific area just for work and separate from personal life even if it’s only a corner of a room.   Set boundaries with the people around you, too.”  Of course, that can be more challenging with small children at home, but not impossible.   “Make clear what times you’ll be working and when you can spend time with them – and stick to that routine.”

Another great idea that Fuller adds is to think about how to create commute-type divides into your working day. “In normal circumstances we have a natural divide, which is your commute, but we now have to create our own transition,” says Fuller. “This might be doing exercise, putting music on that you love or taking a bath. “Whatever it is, use the activity to shake off your day and draw a line under your work to move into your leisure time.”

What if you already feel burned out?

Between working at home, social isolation and pandemic induced anxiety, we are all facing an unprecedented level of stress.  Your work and your health may be suffering as a result.  What if you’re already burned out from working at home?  Here’s what to do.

Take a break

Stop, get away from your many screens and tell yourself you’re doing a great job.  “Take a break outside of your home environment,” suggests Karahassan.  Go for a walk, preferably outdoors. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a wooded area or forest, walk there. Exposure to forests strengthens your immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts your mood and helps you regain and maintain focus.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.” Even 20 minutes in a forested space is enough to produce positive changes in the body. “If you can’t go out, go in the shower, wash your face, just do something for you. That five or 10-minute break can give you the space to reset and take control of your thoughts and feelings,” Karahassan says.

Indulge in something that brings you joy

Take some personal play time.  Reconnect with old friends.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Whatever it is, “Turn off your work screen and indulge yourself in something that brings you joy,” adds Fuller. “You won’t regret it.”

Take care of yourself physically

Avoid unhealthy vices like smoking and drinking and instead try to do things for your mental wellbeing – do some exercise, connect with loved ones, prioritize self-care, sign up to volunteer, and try to work smarter (not harder), says Hinde.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help you live in the moment rather than thinking about the next Zoom meeting on your calendar. And practicing gratitude can promote feelings of positivity – write down three things that went well today, or for which you’re grateful.

Breathe

Breathing exercises are useful when things feel too much, so take five minutes out of your day, sit comfortably somewhere, and focus on your breath.

If these remedies don’t work, consider consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program, or discussing your feelings with your physician.  Don’t try to gut it out alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people achieve and maintain good mental health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s innovative coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Work/Life Balance: Is That What Millennials Really Want?

To be a better employer – a better company – it’s important to give your employees everything they need to be better, too. A central concept in that regard is to avoid the cultural pressure of overworking employees, helping to provide a better work/life balance.

The research – and common sense – says that a proper work/life balance will also reap benefits for the company in terms of productivity, longevity and workforce satisfaction. Just look at the results of MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study:

  • 81% of respondents say having a work/life balance makes them more productive.
  • 79% say a work/life balance makes them a more engaged colleague.

In addition, a new World Services Group study found that among the 1,500 young professionals surveyed, work/life balance was the biggest priority in their professional lives, beating out wealth and leadership opportunities.

Rocks balancing on top of one another

Photo by Matthew Cabret

Today’s workforce is changing. By 2020, according to the Governance Studies at Brookings report How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America,” more than one third of American adults will be Millennials. And by 2025, they will make up 75% of the workforce.

So the real question for today’s employer looking to do right by his or her employees: How to Millennials define work/life balance?

Balance Has Nothing to Do with It

The MetLife study mentioned above provides some insightful analysis. A proper separation between work and life – the paradigm of the previous generation – has been dying for years, they say. Today’s employees, primarily Millennials, no longer seek a balance of work and life but, rather, an integration. They want complete fluidity at work, at home and in every aspect of their lives.

“Think of your life as a symphony.”

The World Services Group study (also mentioned above) reveals that today’s employees see their lives as a whole, of which their career is one valuable part. They like to work hard and be productive, as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with their ability to live a full life. Respondents consistently emphasized the high priority that Millennials place on achieving the flexibility to control meaningful priorities between their work and professional lives.

Finally, Steven Cohen, a partner at 21Mill.com, a platform that helps Millennials perform better at work, uses this analogy in talking to his Millennial clients:

“Stop thinking that your life needs to be balanced. Balance implies things need to be equal in order to be successful. Think of your life as a symphony, instead. A great symphony is played with many different types of instruments, each played at different levels of intensity at different times during the performance. Your commitments, just like instruments in a symphony, need to be adjusted to whatever is most important at any point in time. The goal is not to have work/life balance. It’s to have work/life harmony.”

A Closer Look at Their Hyper-Connected World

Ryan Jenkins is a speaker on Millennials and Generation Z, and another partner at 21Mill.com. In his article in Inc.com, he says that growing up in a hyper-connected world, where a smart device has never been outside of arm’s reach, has forced Millennials to rethink and redefine work/life balance in very specific ways:

  • The Long Term

Millennials aren’t driven by the thought of working hard for the next 40 years and then retiring. Rather, they want to build a life and career that can withstand the continuous reinventions and pivots that the 21st century will bring, whether they retire early or not at all.

  • Engagement

Millennials view work/life balance as being fully engaged with the task or activity at hand. Work/life balance isn’t about physical time and place; it’s a state of mind (even if they occasionally need help from leaders to turn off the distractions to ensure they can be fully present).

  • Freedom

Millennials want work/life balance to be free and flexible so they can prioritize whatever is most important that day. To them, a more fluid approach ensures less stress.

  • Making It Personal

Millennials want a healthy mix of achieving professional goals and time to pursue personal goals. Again, this is about freedom and flexibility. This could be staying an extra day on a business trip to explore the area or completing work early so they can attend a child’s school function later that day.

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Taking care of employees – both professionally and personally – is at the heart of every Employee Assistance Program (EAP). A customized, comprehensive EAP, like the ones offered by Espyr, can provide all the assistance your employees need – Millennials or not – to achieve their version of a work/life balance.

For example, a good comprehensive EAP will make available a host of work/life seminars on topics such as stress management, team building, coping with change, working with difficult people and maintaining a positive attitude.  A good EAP will also offer a wide variety of other services that allow work/life integration to be possible, including:

  • Legal and Financial Consultation
  • Childcare Information and Referrals
  • Eldercare Services
  • Academic Resources
  • Special Needs Services and Referrals
  • Concierge/Convenience Services

If you’d like to learn more about helping your employees live a more balanced, harmonious life – and improve their work productivity in the process – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.