Worker burnout was a thing long before COVID, lockdowns, and travel restrictions. You can ask anyone who freelanced prior to 2020, and they will have at least one story for you regarding their burnout.
However, back then, burnout wasn’t the buzzword it is now. Burnout has gained more traction recently due to the shift in the work model that occurred as a result of lockdowns. Many companies had to switch to remote work, which seemed like a dream come true, at first, for people who have only ever worked from offices.
Research has shown that, even though offices are slowly opening up again as most (if not all) restrictions are lifting, people would rather work from home with an employee tracking system in place, instead of work from the office.
There is no doubt that the mindset and priorities of employees changed, and many employers are doing their best to adhere to that.
Businesses are doing this by switching to either fully remote work or implementing hybrid work. We’ve traditionally known about burnout as something that occurs when you’re overworked at the office. However, burnout hits remote and hybrid workers just as hard.
What is Burnout?
In order to fully understand how you can prevent burnout from happening, we first need to go over what burnout exactly entails. The World Health Organization recognized burnout as a syndrome back in 2019, but it was officially added for the first time in its 11th Revision of The International Classification of Diseases in January 2022.
In accordance with WHO, burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.”
What are the symptoms of burnout at work?
The telltale symptoms of burnout are:
- Having a negative or critical attitude towards work.
- Low energy at work and experiencing feelings of emptiness.
- Having trouble sleeping or feeling constantly exhausted.
- Avoiding work and being more absent from work.
- Dreading going to work or starting work.
- Wanting to leave work once you are there.
- Wanting to quit work or change roles.
- Feelings of indifference and irritation connected with the workplace.
- Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches, illness, or backache.
- Feeling like your contributions don’t matter.
- Feeling dull or completely overwhelmed.
- Pulling away from your coworkers, clients, and even friends and family.
- Feeling like you are wasting your time when working.
- Having little or no appetite for food.
- Feelings of detachment and like you are alone in the world.
- Using food, substances, or alcohol to cope with work.
- Blaming others for your mistakes.
- Not turning on their camera or mic during meetings.
- Taking out frustration on your coworkers.
Why Remote Workers Experience Burnout
Even though burnout is the result of accumulated prolonged stress – we all react differently to stress and we have different “stress tolerance levels”. What may be a prolonged period of chronic stress to one person may not be considered as such by another person.
However, here, it is important to understand that burnout is not an individual problem. It is an organizational problem. Research shows that workplace stress caused additional expenditures between 125 to 190 billion dollars a year.
As an employer or manager, it is your responsibility to assure that your employees aren’t in an unhealthy, potentially dangerous, and overworked headspace, even when they are working from home.
How to prevent burnout in remote teams
Luckily, there are ways for you to prevent burnout, even in your remote team. Let’s go over some of the ways that you can prevent remote worker burnout.
1. Deploy Employee Tracking System
This type of software brings lots of benefits, and it has also proven to be extremely effective when it comes to spotting the first signs of employee burnout. For example, this tool could help you spot procrastination while on the clock, late clock-ins, or “hyper-productivity”. These are often some of the first warning signs of potential burnout.
Once your chosen tracking solution shows you the first signs of burnout, you can “set your employee aside” and initiate an open conversation about what’s going on with them, and have a talk about potential burnout.
Depending on which employee monitoring software you use, in most cases, you will be able to see so much more than just when your employee clocks in and clocks out. The majority of this type of software will give you a detailed insight into the overall productivity of your workers, making it easy to spot the first signs of potential burnout.
2. Focus On Wellbeing
Implementing workplace wellness programs, such as providing free yoga classes, healthy snacks, paramedical services (such as massage therapists), fitness subsidies, programs or courses about financial education, free meditation classes, and so on, have been shown to lower the chances of workplace burnout.
Physical activity provenly lowers stress levels, as well as uses mindfulness techniques. Financial education can help lower money-related stress since money tends to be a big stressor for a lot of people.
Encourage your workers to take paid annual leaves, as well as to take regular breaks from work; ideally to take a walk or engage in some sort of brief fitness activity. All of this can motivate employees to deal with stress in a more efficient and mindful way.
We all know that employees who are able to deal with stress in a methodical way tend to be better team members, too. This creates a more positive and even more holistic work environment.
3. Foster Work-Life Balance
Without specialized apps or remote tracking in place, it might be even more difficult for your employee to draw a line between their personal life and their work life. Therefore, it is important to “unblur” those seemingly blurred lines.
Do your best to discourage employees from intermixing the two. For example, make it clear that your employees should not add their work email to their personal mobile devices. This should be done so that they don’t feel tempted to “check-in” outside of work hours and feel overwhelmed by work.
Doing this also encourages the idea of respecting boundaries, as well as distinguishing their private time versus work time. Remind your workers to turn off notifications on the platforms that they use to communicate with their colleagues once they clock out.
The final step that you can take as an employer is to check in with your employees more frequently. Especially once you already recognize some of the previously mentioned telltale signs of potential burnout.
Strategies to prevent burnout in remote teams
Burnout is no joke. The length of recovery time for burnout varies depending on how long the burnout was building.
It usually takes around 11 weeks to recover from it, however, people have also reported needing months and even years to recover fully. Some lifestyle experts even claim that it actually takes 3 to 5 years for your body and mind to fully recover.
The chemical composition of your body changes when you are under prolonged stress. For example, your cortisol levels spike, which affects your hormonal balance and can affect and harm your body in many different ways. Most workers, sadly, don’t have the time nor the opportunity to take that much time off in order to recover.
This is why it is so important for employers, managers, or administrators to recognize the first signs, whether by analyzing data from the employee tracking system or by recognizing visible behavioural changes that were mentioned in the symptom list. Once the first symptoms of burnout have been recognized, it is much easier to start the recovery process.
Don’t ignore the signs, since burnout isn’t just detrimental to the employee, there is also an organizational cost that comes with this severe condition.
I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.