Employee Burnout: The cost of the “always on” remote workplace

by Julie Rutherford

Feel like your brain is in a fog? That new tasks keep coming, and you can’t keep up? You’re not alone.  According to a McKinsey study from 2021, around half of all employees have felt symptoms of burnout since the start of the pandemic. The true number is likely even higher than that because the survey didn’t account for those who had already left the workforce or who were too burned out to respond.

Working mother falling asleep at her laptop as her kids play because of burnout

But what exactly is burnout? And what does it have to do with COVID-19?

According to the World Institute of Health, burnout is, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

It’s that lack of motivation and feeling of constant exhaustion that comes from an overwhelming workload. Although it’s different from diagnoses like depression and anxiety, those may amplify feelings of burnout and make it more challenging to cope with new stressors.

Burnout existed long before the start of the pandemic, but new-found difficulties associated with working from home combined with growing uncertainty over the future have raised everyone’s stress levels.

In today’s context, it is women – more specifically women of color and women with disabilities – who burn out at the highest rate. Stressors are now so intense that many are considering changing careers or even leaving their careers entirely. Not only do women tend to work in those sectors hit the hardest by COVID-19 (medicine, education, social services), but school closures often leave women in charge at home regardless of if they were previously employed. 

Now what?

Burnout can be an administrative/management problem – not an individual one – so it often requires an administrative-level solution. If left unchecked, burnout can spread much like a virus throughout an entire company. Surface level fixes like weekly yoga classes and meditation subscriptions won’t do. In addition to continuing to expand upon existing benefits like therapy-inclusive healthcare and mental health days, hiring managers need to consider what changes might be needed in their workplace culture:

  1. Include employees: Who better to ask how to care for employees than employees themselves? Ask what kind of benefits people are looking for, how you can support them and their work and what kind of expectations they have moving forward. Remember, communication is key!
  1. Promote safe spaces: The only way to fix a problem is to know there is a problem in the first place, and the only way to do that is to celebrate open discussion. Employees need to feel comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of backlash. Make it clear that company leaders are there to help, not harm.
  1. Establish boundaries: Everybody needs breaks. Quick and constant communication may be useful in the short term, but it isn’t sustainable. Set company-wide “not-for-work” times when employees shouldn’t be emailing or checking Slack to keep everyone at their best whenever they do clock in. 
  1. Model behavior: Boundaries are only as beneficial as they are culturally acceptable. They mean nothing if there is still social pressure to always be working. To truly combat burnout, managers, supervisors, and other higher-ups must follow the “not-for-work” times too.
  1. Stress flexibility: Some people prefer working in an office, while others like working remotely. Offer multiple ways for employees to work, and reflect on whether certain meetings need to be synchronous.  Mindful work practices help keep talented parents and caregivers in the talent pool, who in turn help businesses grow!

What about individual employees? How can you minimize burnout? You might not be able to change your company, but you can always make changes for your well-being to reduce burnout:

  1. Set personal boundaries: Separate time for work from time for you and hold yourself accountable for that separation. Appoint a space in your house that is strictly for personal time, or set up the do-not-disturb function on your phone to limit what notifications you get off the clock. 
  1. Find new outlets: It’s important to create an identity outside your career. Look into those things you’ve always wanted to do but never have, or dive deeper into what already brings you joy. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try rock climbing or do the daily crossword puzzle. Whatever it is, use your newly designated personal time to explore it!
  2. Keep yourself centered: A balanced life means a balanced mind. As a remote company, we here at TorchLight are balancing pros! Here is what one of our recruiters said he likes to do to manage his days:

Taking two 15-minute breaks either to get my dogs out for a walk or load the dishwasher means when the day is done, I can focus my energy elsewhere.

Planning is essential. I plan my days by the minute, not by the hour, so I know when I can step away. I also enjoy my lunch break and get away from work if I can. 

Calling a day done is important. You need time to unwind at the end of the day to recharge the batteries.

To read more of our teams’ tips, check out our blog Finding Work/Life Balance in 2022.

Burnout is what happens when elevated stress levels become the norm. We hope these suggestions offer you some food for thought as you look for ways to combat burnout and balance work and life in a way that leads to more personal and professional happiness. As always, if you have suggestions or ideas on employee burnout and related topics, email us at marketing@torchhlighthire.com.

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For more on women in the workplace, read our post on Imposter Syndrome. 

Posted in CandidatesHiring ManagersWorkplace culture