What is Work From Home Burnout? (And How To Overcome It)

The trend for Work From Home (WFH) has been on a steady increase from 2005 to 2018 because of the numerous apps and technologies which enabled people to do their jobs in the relative comfort of their own homes.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, however, most in-office employees were compelled to switch to WFH status if they were to continue to earn a living during these uncertain economic times.

Unfortunately, because of the longer work hours and the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance, this has led to a staggering increase of 69 percent of employees suffering from burnout.

Couple burnout with the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic and you create a state of potential physical and mental decline, which may lead to serious illnesses. Suffice to say, when illness sets in, you can expect productivity to suffer.

WFH Burnout Defined

WFH burnout has been defined in two ways: 

  • Chronic workplace stress that has not been treated or managed successfully
  • A state of chronic stress resulting from a person’s inability to balance and/or separate their personal and work lives due to working and living in the same space, such as WFH

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines WFH burnout as an “occupational phenomenon or syndrome caused by chronic, unaddressed work stress.” The organization even goes so far as to add that burnout is an “occupational hazard.”

You will know a person is suffering from WFH burnout when they exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Persistency of feelings of exhaustion
  • Losing track of tasks
  • Inability to finish their work on time
  • Mood changes, such as sadness, irritability, and anger
  • Depression, hopelessness, fatigue, and loss of interest in things and activities previously enjoyed
  • Apathy over work or feelings of discouragement
  • Sleep problems (Ex. Problem falling asleep, insomnia, poor sleep, complaints of nightmares, not getting enough sleep at night)
  • Starting to drink alcohol or, if already an alcohol drinker, increased intake as a coping mechanism
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, fainting, dizziness, chest pains, palpitations, abdominal pain, and prone to illnesses

Causes of WFH Burnout

Three main causes of WFH burnout have been identified, and they are as follows:

1) Inability to disconnect

There used to be an existing boundary between your personal life and work life.

This “boundary” consists of the activities you do prior to entering your workplace, such as having breakfast and coffee, getting dressed, and commuting to the office.

Needless to say, this “boundary” no longer exists because you work at home.

Another way by which you are unable to disconnect is if you continue to keep your computer and smartphones open.

For example, the minute you wake up, the first thing you do is to check for work-related texts and emails on your phone or tablet.

2) Lack of Workplace Inspiration

People suffering from WFH burnout are so completely overwhelmed by chronic stress that they lose motivation and can’t find inspiration in their workplace and the work that they do.

Just answering phone calls and emails is too tiring for them. Some even come dread conferences, whether in-person or video conferencing.

This behavior occurs because the stress overwhelms a person’s cognitive skills (thinking, learning, and concentration) and neuroendocrine system, switching the brain into “survival mode”.

In this mode, the mental states of responsibility, motivation, and ambition needed for work are turned off.

3) Loss of a Supportive Environment

WFH employees will be the first to tell you that they don’t miss the constant badgering of bosses and co-workers and troublesome office politics.

They will admit, however, that WFH meant that they lost a supportive environment. Inter-office conflicts aside, employees can count on getting prompt advice from a co-worker if they are having difficulties with certain tasks.

In many cases, bosses are ready to provide guidance and make necessary adjustments in project procedures and deadlines.

How Employees Can Manage and Recover from WFH Burnout

Managing and recovering from WFH burnout require measures to be taken by both the employees and their employers/managers.

It is only through the concerted efforts of both parties that WFH burnout recovery can be implemented and preventive measures be initiated.

Let’s first take a look at WFH burnout management on the part of employees:

1) Create set boundaries and a routine for work

Right from the start before starting WFH, set boundaries for yourself, your employers and your family. You should only work on the hours you and your employer have agreed upon. During these times, your family should not interrupt or distract you with household chores. Outside working hours, shut off your work computer and phone. Make it a point to take breaks as you would in the office, including an hour-long lunch break, two 15-minute coffee breaks, and short “micro-breaks” to stretch your legs and rest your eyes.

2) Control the aspects of your work-life that you can

While setting boundaries is already an example of your exerting control on your work-life, you should also take charge of your health. Because you are WFH, instead of ordering fast food takeout, prepare healthy dishes and snacks for your consumption while you work. Add exercise times to your daily schedule, even if it’s just a short walk. To ensure good, uninterrupted sleep, shut off your smartphone or tablet as soon as your work hours are done or 30 minutes before going to bed.

3) Talk to your manager/employer

Build a good working relationship with your manager or employer.

Try to set up 15-minute weekly or bi-weekly video conference or phone calls. Don’t just focus on talking about the work that you’re doing. Always answer truthfully when your boss asks about your well-being.

If you feel you are burned out, write down what you are feeling and any suggestions that you have that will help you to recover (such as setting boundaries on texts and phone calls after work hours and choosing a flexible schedule).

4) Always include personal time in your daily schedule

There should always be “me time” in your daily schedule. Set some time to do the things you love and enjoy, such as doing a hobby, playing with a pet, or reading a book.

5) Connect with people

To curb feelings of isolation and loneliness, make it a point to contact co-workers and indulge in a little chat. If burnout is getting you down, you can talk to a company counselor or a therapist.

How Employers Can Help Manage WFH Burnout

Now, here are the ways by which managers/employers can help manage WFH burnout in their employees:

1) Routinely check on employees

Employers should routinely check on their employees, preferably on a weekly basis.

Again, don’t just discuss about the work. Inquire about their health and well-being. Employers should be able to notice signs of WFH burnout in the way their employees look on video conferencing and any decreasing quality in their work output.

If burnout has developed, they should recommend a medical appointment with the company doctor and make adjustments in their work schedules.

2) Offer flexible work arrangements whenever possible, and not just WFH

Some employees may find it difficult to break through the isolation and loneliness of full-time WFH.

In these cases, employers should offer flexible work arrangements. Many WFH employees prefer a hybrid setup wherein they work at home in the morning and then in the office after lunch. Such a hybrid setup allows them to maintain social contact with people in the company.

3) Be attentive to time and mental breaks

Employers should always be attentive to the schedules of their employees. Limit all calls and texts within the designated work hours.

Summing things up

With WFH becoming a part of the “new normal”, employees and employers alike need to do their respective roles to alleviate incidents of burnout in this working arrangement.

Not only can you preserve the physical and mental well-being of all workers, you guarantee continued productivity in your company during these pandemic times and beyond.

If you’re looking for other resources on working from home, be sure to check out our Complete Guide To Working From Home to get you started!