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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.

How to Maintain Your Mental Health While Working from Home

We’re all pretty deep into this working from home experience, and no one knows how much longer it will last. There is one thing we do know. The isolation and changes in routine can have a great effect on your mental health.

Even though it’s more about freelancers choosing to work from home vs. working from home during a pandemic, we think this article from We Work Remotely (a platform for finding and listing remote jobs) sums up the problem nicely and provides some practical solutions. Click the link to read the entire article or enjoy this edited version.

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Working from home can turn normally optimistic, productive workers into tired, unmotivated, irritable toads. So before you hit rock bottom, learn how to spot the signs of declining mental health so you can address your next steps.

What are the Psychological Effects of Working from Home?

Here are the three most commonly reported issues remote workers face:

  • Loneliness and Isolation

When you don’t have to go anywhere to work, you could spend days not talking to anyone. You miss the social aspect of chatting and venting about work and life, and this camaraderie doesn’t translate the same way over Zoom. Being disconnected from your coworkers and the rest of the world may make you feel lonely and isolated. And loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms like random pain.

  • Anxiety and Stress

When you work in the same place you sleep, the boundary between work and home life blurs. You may feel pressure to be on when you should be off, but without time to disconnect and unplug, you risk burning out.

  • Depression

The anxiety, stress and loneliness of working from home can lead to depression or, if you’re already depressed, make it worse. Depression isn’t just feeling down; the Mayo Clinic says symptoms of depression include:

    • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration (even over small matters)
    • Loss of interest or happiness in activities such as sex or hobbies
    • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and sleeping too much
    • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
    • Increased cravings for food
    • Anxiety, agitation and restlessness
    • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
    • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
    • Wanting to stay at home rather than going out to socialize or do new activities

How to Take Care of Your Mental Health When You Work From Home

The good news is your mental health doesn’t have to suffer when you work from home. First things first: it’s okay not to be okay. Honor exactly where you are, wherever that may be. Second, know it’s in your power to enjoy a happy brain. Third, try these five simple adjustments:

#1. Create A Routine and Stick to the Schedule

Over 40% of people say their flexible schedule is the best part of working remotely. But it’s how you organize those hours in your day that makes all the difference. Do you have a daily schedule or set routine you follow? When you organize your tasks and outline goals, you mentally prepare yourself for what to expect during the day and it’s easier to work towards achieving the goals you set out, rather than vaguely meandering towards them.

It’s important to schedule analog breaks, too. Set aside time to escape all forms of digital screens; give your eyes, neck, shoulders and back a much-needed rest! And don’t forget to put a little time in that schedule for fun activities – hobbies, self-care and anything else that makes you happy. All work and no play stresses all remote workers out.

#2. Upgrade Your Home Office

One survey shows 84% of remote workers get their business done from home. But do you actually like working in your home office? If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, make that priority number one. Bonus points if you have an office with a door you can close to mentally and physically separate work and home life.

Next, outfit your home office like you want to be the next Twitch star. Whether you buy new or from Craig’s list, get yourself a good, wide desk; a comfortable, ergonomic chair; and a good sound system – without workers to annoy, you’re free to blast some Spotify and get yourself into the zone.

#3. Get Up and Move!

While you’re scheduling, don’t forget to schedule active time to get your heart pumping. Go for a walk or bike ride, stretch or do yoga, practice a hip-hop dance video on YouTube – whatever floats your boat. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes daily can significantly lower anxiety levels. You’ll also boost endorphins and serotonin to flood your brain with happiness.

#4. Leave Your House for the Wonder of Nature

A little time in nature can help with anxiety, stress and depression. Studies show outdoor walks may even help lower blood pressure and stress hormones. Dr. Jason Strauss from Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance says, “Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.” You’re not going to argue with Dr. Strauss, now, are you?

#5. Make Time for Your Favorite People

Yes, we know; with social distancing, hanging out with friends, family and co-workers is tricky. But when you’re feeling down, support from those who lift you up may be as effective as some other forms of therapy. So carve out time each week to spend with your core favorite people – whether through Zoom, text or phone calls.

Follow these simple tips and you’ll protect your mental health from the loneliness, anxiety and depression many people have to deal with while working from home. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, however, reach out to someone you trust, speak to your doctor or find a mental health professional.

Remember, although you might be stuck at home by yourself, you’re not alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

Making Work From Home Work For You

These are extraordinary times.In addition to the health concerns of Covid-19,  the virus has brought on lifestyle changes that we’ve never dreamed could occur.One of those unexpected lifestyle changes may be working remotely, which in virtually every case now means working from home.

As someone who has worked from a home office for nearly 8 years, I found Kim Lyons article, How to Work From Home, to be remarkably accurate and informative.While there is no one size fits all when it comes to working remotely, Ms. Lyons offers several time tested recommendations that you should be considering if working remotely is in your future.

Have a separate workspace

There is something psychological about having a dedicated workspace.When you’re in it, your mind sends you a signal that says, “I’m ready to work.”So, it’s entirely fitting that establishing your workspace is where Lyons starts.“A separate workspace doesn’t have to be a dedicated office with a door that closes (which is often not an option in smaller living spaces). It should be an area that mentally prepares you for work mode, whether it’s a separate room, a small desk set up in a corner of the living room, or a laptop at the end of the kitchen table. Ideally, it would be a place you don’t go to relax, like your bedroom or your sofa, and a place that other members of your household know is designated for work.

If you find you’re most productive with a laptop on the sofa, then by all means, set up shop there. It may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what area of your home is most conducive to getting work done.”

Woman working at home with dogs at her feet

Establish a designated workspace.

Establish a routine, including non-work hours

Lyons was spot on when she remarks, “One of the hardest things to adapt to when you start working from home is the lack of a structured start and stop time for your day.With devices that allow bosses and clients to reach us constantly, you can end up working 24/7. Try to start work around the same time every day if you can, and schedule breaks (including meals) around the same time if possible. I would also advise not eating in your work area.

Ideally, you should try to get some outdoor time once a day, to get coffee or walk the dog, so you don’t go too stir crazy.”

Many people find the lack of socialization to be one of the more challenging changes when they’re no longer working in an office or shop with colleagues around them.“Working remotely can feel isolating at times, so as part of your routine, try to interact with your co-workers regularly. Chatting over messaging apps like Slack (even just saying “Hello!” when you sign on in the morning) and holding meetings over Zoom or another video app are two quick and easy ways to stay in the loop. However you connect, don’t let email be the only way you interact with colleagues,” say’s Lyons.

“Finally, try to end work at the same time every day. Obviously, there will be times when a late deadline or project needs after-hours attention. But in most situations, a 10PM work email can wait until the following morning for a response.”

Dress the part

One of the biggest selling points of working from home is that you can wear what you want.My office-bound friends often ask me what time I get out of my pajamas and whether I actually ever get “fully dressed.” Lyons suggests, “ To keep a sense of routine, try to get dressed and do it around the same time every day. This might sound a little odd, but in addition to jeans and a comfortable shirt, wearing shoes (instead of slippers or just socks) helps keep that sense of work vs. relaxation. I’m not talking about the most expensive shoes in your closet; sneakers, flip flops, or other comfortable footwear are just fine.”

Know your body

Lyons describes how she “splurged on a good desk chair when I first started working from home, and you may find that’s a worthwhile expense; it’s hard to work if your back is bothering you or you’re not comfortable. Definitely make time to get up and walk away from your desk at regular intervals to stretch your legs.”I too found that a good comfortable chair can make a huge difference.

I also found that I needed to set the alarm on my smartphone to make sure I took a break every 45 minutes or so of working.  Setting my alarm served two purposes.First, I found that establishing 45 minute periods of focused work enabled me to be incredibly productive.Second, if I didn’t set the alarm I found myself working non-stop for hours at a time without ever leaving my chair.  Sitting that long is not healthy.You need to get up and walk around for your physical health, as well as your mental health.Unless you include some “walking around time” in your day, working from will be more sedentary than you’re used to.

Lyons also reminds us to make sure your work area is well-lit so you don’t strain your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

No kids

Many of us may have little ones thinking that mommy or daddy is home to play with us.  That may be especially true with many schools temporarily closed to reduce contagion.Lyons reminds us, to “make sure everyone in your family (kids, parents, spouses, and anyone else with a key to the premises) knows that when you’re working you’re not available to help settle minor juice-box-related spats or engage in idle chitchat. Shared living spaces can get noisy, so if your workspace isn’t isolated from common areas, I strongly recommend getting some noise-canceling headphones to signal to others that you’re not to be disturbed and to avoid getting drawn into conversations that are going to distract you from an important deadline.”

You’re probably going to try to get some chores done when you’re working from home.That’s okay.“Be realistic about what you can get done. Taking out the garbage or checking the mail are two ways to get away from your desk for a quick break, but it’s probably not practical to try to conquer that mountain of laundry all at once while you’re on the clock.”

“Another suggestion: don’t offer to be the on-call person for friends and neighbors. Of course you should help in emergencies, but if you’re always the go-to for package deliveries or to feed people’s pets “because you’re home anyway,” this can quickly become more time-consuming than is fair. Establish — and stick to — clear boundaries about when you are and aren’t available.”

Get the tools you need

“You’ll get a lot of advice about investing in various work tools, such as a standing desk or a separate work computer,” says Lyons. “If you have the resources to do this and think it will help you (and better still, if your company will reimburse you for these expenses), go for it. If your company is requiring you to work from home, find out what tools they’ll provide and what they’ll pay for.”

“In addition to the noise-canceling headphones, the only must-haves for my own work-from-home setup are a decent Wi-Fi connection, a computer that meets my needs (this will vary greatly depending on your job), and a reliable cellphone. But if you end up working from home long term, you’ll figure out what you need and what you can afford.”

Looking ahead

Working remotely is not for everyone.  Doing it well requires the right work environment, the right type of job and the right mindset.  However, if all those factors are present, you may find working remotely offers a sense of freedom and flexibility that you’ve never had in your work.

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative coaching and assistance programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for 30 years. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.