Most proponents of remote work say people are more productive when working from home, but their productivity often comes at a price.
In a recent poll on anonymous social media network Blind, an employee from Google asked “Is WFH hurting your mental health?”
With nearly 10,000 votes, two-thirds of respondents said yes—and the top-voted comment cited extended hours and dissolving boundaries as the primary culprit.
Despite these factors, burnout doesn’t need to be an inevitable consequence of working from home.
Here’s how to avoid WFH burnout.
What causes WFH burnout?
Several factors contribute to the potential for burnout among remote workers.
One study from 2018 found that high-autonomy, emotionally stable individuals experience the least strain around working remotely, while those with low autonomy and emotional instability experience the most.
For managers, this means that some people naturally possess the skills necessary to avoid burnout, while others may struggle—and need your support—to overcome the conditions that cause it:
- Dissolving boundaries between work life and home life
- Real or perceived inability to “shut off”
- Isolation from work peers
- Desire to be perceived as a “good worker”
Taken together, it’s a recipe that leads many people to “overwork.”
In an era of massive layoffs and job uncertainty, the most people-conscious managers help to prevent employee burnout by modeling and encouraging healthy remote work habits.
Symptoms of WFH burnout
According to Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that culminates in:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Cynicism and detachment
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Like all things chronic, burnout never happens overnight—but once it’s taken hold, people no longer function effectively, whether working solo or interacting with coworkers.
Here are some additional signs of burnout:
Lack of concentration/forgetfulness
One of the earliest symptoms of WFH burnout is the inability to focus and a tendency to forget things. When it’s really bad, things won’t get done on time and work will begin to pile up.
This may initially present as negative self-talk, but when left unaddressed, feelings of burnout become a negative attitude that typically extends to coworkers, projects, and the company as a whole.
Irritability can often stem from things that have nothing to do with work, but when it’s persistent, it usually comes from feeling ineffective. This can impact professional relationships in some cases and result in termination in others.
Tips for avoiding burnout
With things like social distancing and economic uncertainty complicating our personal and professional lives, the potential for burnout while working remotely is higher than ever.
The good news is, with a few deliberate and conscious shifts, most employees can successfully avoid burnout before it happens.
Here are a few burnout-blocking habits to develop:
Setting and sticking to a work schedule
According to research from Airtasker, having set work hours is the most effective way to stay for remote employees to remain productive. But it’s also the best way to prevent yourself from pulling unnecessary all-nighters. Unless there’s a serious deadline, start and stop at the same time each day—no matter what—to preserve your work/life balance. That means no email or Slack after you’ve unplugged.
Protecting yourself from distractions and interruptions
For most people, it’s considerably easier to avoid workplace distractions when the workplace doubles as your living room. But for others, the desire to seem attentive can get in the way of staying on task and meeting deadlines (and, if we’re honest, some people welcome the distraction).
Getting pulled into Slack threads can be a great way to alleviate stress and build rapport between coworkers, but it can also be a way to sidetrack your progress, which will eventually lead to unnecessary stress.
Don’t be afraid to set an away status, block time on your calendar, and not be the first to respond when your boss asks for a volunteer. Instead, carve out the time to focus on your most important projects.
Making time for the things you enjoy
Preventing burnout isn’t limited to working responsibly to avoid stress. It’s also about promoting a healthy sense of detachment from work.
Knowing when it’s time to take a break or have some fun is a critical aspect of this. We’re willing to bet that remote workers who don’t experience work-related burnout have maintained their sense of normalcy by continuing to do things that bring them joy.
This might mean finding the best memes to share in response to Slack threads, or going on daily runs during lunch, or reading a new book every two weeks. Whatever it is, if it makes you happy, it’s worth investing in—even if it means carving time out of the workday to do it.
In the long run when WFH, your mental health will thank you.