Many employees thought working from home would be the greatest thing ever. Now remote employees are burned out.
Almost 70% of remote employees experienced burnout symptoms while working from home during COVID-19, a recent Monster.com survey found. That’s a 35% increase since early May!
Working from home was once thought to be the ultimate perk. Now it’s a pain for people displaced from the office in 2020. The longer some employees work from home the more stressed, disconnected and unsettled they’ve become.
So it’s important for HR leaders and front line managers to help remote employees avoid and recover from burnout.
“As a leader, make a point of being present, being attuned to your team and really talking to them and learning about what they’re going through,” says Admiral John Richardson, former chief of naval operations in a recent interview with McKinsey. “Empathy matters a lot too. an approachable, empathetic leader has a special kind of magic.”
Part of being present and empathetic is recognizing when employees are stressed and on the verge of burnout.
6 signs of remote employee burnout
Employees often don’t recognize burnout in themselves. So they won’t likely recognize when they start to go down the anxiety rabbit hole. And they definitely won’t ask for help.
Some signs that remote employees are burned out are the same as those employees showed when they worked on-site. Others are less obvious because you don’t see employees day-in, day-out.
So HR leaders and front line managers want to keep an eye out for employees who:
- Avoid work. Their output goes down. They’re difficult to reach during your agreed-on, regular work hours.
- Perform less. They miss goals or don’t perform the same quality of work as they did early in the pandemic or when on-site.
- Become apathetic. They aren’t interested in their work, team, company, clients, etc. They might even stop caring about how they look or act on video conferences or what colleagues and bosses think of their contributions.
- Don’t take time off. Some employees go to the extreme other side of avoiding work. They work extended hours, overdo everything and don’t take vacation days. In fact, the Monster researchers found 59% of employees take less time off than normal now, and 42% don’t plan any time off for self-care.
- Are irritable. They get irritated by colleagues, family members or any kind of interruption to their work. They might even use work as a weird relief from everyday life stress. So they get short, snappy or downright rude with other people.
- Indicate some levels of hopelessness, worry or sadness. They notably aren’t as pleasant or cheerful as they once were. They might withdraw from the group in Zoom meetings or any kind of remote work activities aimed to boost engagement.
Help employees avoid burnout
HR Leaders and front line managers can help employees by encouraging some behaviors and providing resources to avoid burnout.
- Boundaries. You can’t dictate how employees set up their home work environments. But you’ll want to remind them to set boundaries between work and life. Ideally there’s a physical one – a door or curtain between where they work and the rest of their home. If not, tell them to create mental boundaries every day – put work tools (computer, papers, references, etc.) away, go outside or take a short ride for a space of time between work and life.
- Limits. Remind employees to turn off email notifications and other professional alerts when they aren’t working.
- Involvement. Remind them to schedule activities they enjoy – just like they schedule work hours and meetings. They might want to get more involved in their hobbies, volunteering, wellness and family activities.
- Concentration. Be as flexible as you can so employees can focus intensely on their duties during hours that work best for them. That way, they feel released from work and focus on life at other times.
Help remote employees bounce back
For some employees, it might be too late in the work-from-home game to avoid burnout. So it’s time for HR leaders to help remote employees who are burned out bounce back.
Here are four tips to help:
- Refocus on self-care. Give employees tips and resources to practice self-care. For instance, help them stay active by offering access to online or Zoom exercise classes or sending them tips for safe walking or yoga. Give employees outlets to stick with or start hobbies. Some ideas: Facilitate book or movie clubs, diversity and inclusion groups, online cooking or art lessons.
- Set limits. Many HR leaders and front-line managers have tried to avoid micro-managing employees by offering as much flexibility as possible. But to help employees bounce back from burnout, you want to use a heavier hand, telling them to limit screen and work time. Advise them to:
- step away from the computer every couple of hours
- avoid the screen – television, included – for an hour after work, and
- work the same number of hours as you did on-site.
- Start and stick with a schedule. Similarly, encourage employees to establish a work schedule so they don’t feel like they’re “always on.” The sooner they stick to it, the more unlikely work will creep into their home lives.
- Offer mental health screening. Some employees are overly stressed by working from home because they care for others, oversee children in virtual school and worry about the pandemic. They may struggle to manage the stress despite your best efforts. You might be able to help by directing employees to free, confidential and anonymous mental health screening from Mental Health America. Then regularly remind employees of any mental health benefits and resources your company offers.