Why working from home has increased the risk of burnout for employees and managers alike — and what to do about it


Business coach Kate Witteveen. Source: supplied.

After months of working from home, the novelty of being able to wear pyjama bottoms on client calls and team meetings has worn thin, and many business owners and their teams are struggling with decreased wellbeing.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the risk of burnout has increased for many business owners and their teams since they began working from home.

Here’s why.

1. A lack of boundaries. Are we working at home or living at work?

While many of us have gained extra hours in the day as a result of not having to commute to work, this has not translated into a much-needed increase in activities which enhance wellbeing and promote good health.

Instead, many business owners and their teams are spending more time working and less time relaxing.

Although it is tempting to think there is no harm in just finishing off that report before bed, the fact that we are not switching off and stepping out of our work zone is likely to result in decreased performance and efficiency.

Continuing to work late at night can compromise the quality of our sleep, which has a direct impact on our wellbeing, as well as the quality of our work.

2. Impression management. What if they think I’m not working hard enough?

Although we may be less concerned with what we are wearing to work, there is another element of impression management that is making a big impact on those who are working from home.

Fear of being perceived as not working hard enough has resulted in workers being reluctant to take even a brief bathroom break, in case they miss a call/email/message.

Actual lunch breaks are also increasingly unlikely.

Employees are reporting that they are concerned that others may be perceived as working harder/longer/better than they are, and they don’t want to be left behind.

The science of productivity is clear, that taking regular breaks is imperative to maintaining high performance, so this belief is not only detrimental to the individual’s health (and bladder), it is likely to be impacting on their performance as well. 

3. Staying stuck with a problem because they don’t want to interrupt others by asking for help.

Being with other team members in the office means that it is simple to ask a question or seek clarity about an issue, without feeling like you are being a major nuisance.

When working from home, however, this is not so simple.

Not knowing what their boss/team members are working on at any given time may cause them to worry about interrupting.

Instead, they ruminate, cogitate, speculate, and worry, ultimately getting themselves upset and not solving the problem.

This leaves them feeling awful and doesn’t get the job done.

So, what can business owners and managers do to reduce the risk of themselves and their teams burning out at home?

1. Care less about when and how things are done.

Timelines and quality of outputs are obviously important, but one way of minimising burnout is to place less emphasis on the timing and the way things are done.

Working from home may mean individuals are juggling other demands, such as home school or caring for elderly parents who cannot access regular care services, so the typical 9-to-5 workday may not be possible.

If team members are able to meet their commitments by working a split shift or starting and finishing earlier or later, try to accommodate this, where possible.

2. Communicate your appreciation to your team.

Reassure them of their value and the trust you have in them.

Let them know it is okay to take regular breaks, just as they would if they were in the office.

Specifically encourage all team members to monitor their hours, and ensure they are not overdoing it.

3. Have multiple options for connection and checking in, and don’t make them all just business.

One of the most important predictors of wellbeing is meaningful connection, so giving your team regular opportunities to connect with one another is important.

While it is important to remain mindful of the reality of screen fatigue, and the fact that some team members may choose not to participate in purely social gatherings, continue to create those opportunities.

If a team member regularly declines invitations to connect with others, check in with them individually to see how they are going. 

During these times of physical distancing, it is crucial that business owners and their teams communicate well, demonstrate trust, and maintain vigilance about protecting the wellbeing of all team members.

Don’t overestimate the benefits of working from home.

As we all know by now, it is not just a never-ending pyjama party, and it carries genuine risks to wellbeing that should not be overlooked.


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