How can one avoid and address burnout while working remotely?

February 17, 2023by Panda Global Work0

The advantage of remote work lies in its elimination of time-consuming commutes and the flexibility it provides for personal activities like attending medical appointments. Remote work empowers individuals to optimize their workdays and cultivate a healthier work-life balance.

This flexibility extends beyond the individual level; remote work also establishes a supportive environment for globally distributed teams. Beyond personal benefits, it has been demonstrated to yield significant cost savings and heightened productivity.

Nevertheless, despite the autonomy to set their own schedules and work in preferred environments, remote workers are not immune to the challenges of the modern workplace. The blending of boundaries between work and home, coupled with the inclination to work longer hours from home, can contribute to heightened stress levels and the risk of burnout.


                  Jump straight to a key chapter

        • Define work burnout and its manifestations?
        • Enumerate the various types of work burnout?
        • Distinguish work-from-home burnout from traditional workplace burnout?
        • Outline the specific challenges associated with work-from-home burnout during the pandemic.
        • Identify the indicators and symptoms of burnout in a professional setting?
        • Examine the internal factors that contribute to burnout in a remote work environment.
        • Explore the external factors that act as stressors leading to burnout in remote work scenarios.
        • Propose strategies for coping with burnout in the workplace?
        • Outline steps for recovery after experiencing complete burnout in both personal and professional life?
        • Provide recommendations for preventing burnout in a work environment.
        • Detail actions leaders can take to recognize and mitigate work-from-home burnout.
        • Highlight the role of effectively managing work-from-home burnout as an integral aspect of being a valuable team member.


Collaborating with a globally distributed team introduces challenges in recognizing and mitigating signs of work burnout. How can you ensure that your team maximizes the benefits of remote work without succumbing to the pitfalls of work-from-home burnout?

This piece aims to provide clarity on precisely that matter. We will guide you through the root causes of burnout, delineate the manifestations of work-from-home burnout in remote teams, and offer practical insights on how you can assist your team in addressing and managing burnout at work when it arises.


Define work burnout and its manifestations?


Work burnout, also known as job burnout, emerges as a form of stress linked to one’s occupation. Prolonged exposure to job-related stressors triggers the release of chemicals in our system, originally designed for situations akin to a threat from a tiger. The continuous experience of stress over an extended period can lead to burnout.

Defined by psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberg in 1975, work burnout manifests as a state of both physical and emotional exhaustion, impacting an individual’s mental and physical well-being. Freudenberger initially observed this phenomenon among medical professionals with heavy workloads, noting symptoms such as exhaustion, depression, and a diminished ability to cope with stress.

While historically associated with service professions, burnout is not limited to specific occupations; any worker deprived of adequate rest or breaks can experience it. Overworking is a common contributor to burnout.

It’s crucial to recognize that burnout is not a medical diagnosis but rather a natural response to excessive stress and overwork. Experts may differ in their definitions and diagnoses of burnout, with some attributing it to individual factors like depression, anxiety, or personal life issues.

Regardless of its origins, burnout is characterized by three main symptoms:

      • Exhaustion: Individuals undergoing burnout often feel fatigued, and this weariness can manifest in physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset or migraines.
      • Alienation: When individuals experiencing burnout are subjected to excessive workloads, they may exhibit negativity or withdraw from interactions with colleagues.
      • Reduced work performance: It might become apparent that a teammate is putting in extended hours but achieving less, essentially “spinning their wheels” at work.


Enumerate the various types of work burnout?


Employees can undergo burnout in various dimensions—physically, mentally, emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, and environmentally. The impact of work-from-home burnout may manifest in one or more of the following ways:

Physical Burnout: Physical burnout is essentially exhaustion, evident in behaviors like clumsiness or carelessness, such as tripping, knocking things over, or an increase in typographical errors. Insomnia may exacerbate the fatigue experienced by an already-tired individual.

Emotional Burnout: The frustration associated with burnout can lead to emotional outbursts, such as crying in inappropriate situations or lashing out at co-workers. Employees may harbor negative emotions or feel a sense of alienation from their team.

Cognitive Burnout: Burnout can impair a person’s ability to work effectively, leading them to perceive their tasks as mundane or routine. Observers may notice signs like mental fog or a lack of creative ideas from the individual.

Mental Burnout: Prolonged stress can result in forgetfulness, depression, or anxiety, affecting an individual’s mental well-being.


Distinguish work-from-home burnout from traditional workplace burnout?


While remote work offers numerous advantages, it comes with its unique set of stressors, and in certain instances, it can contribute to job burnout. A significant factor is the ease with which the boundaries between work and home life can become blurred. In a conventional workplace, a distinct separation exists—you commute to an office, work until the designated clock-out time, and then return home to your personal life.

The dynamics shift when working remotely and asynchronously. Remote workers may discover that they are putting in more hours than required—checking work emails during designated off hours or dedicating extensive personal time to professional projects. Such behaviors may lead to feelings of guilt among those workers, who may struggle with balancing work commitments and spending adequate time with their family.

Conversely, the reverse scenario is also possible. Some workers may experience burnout when attempting to manage multiple responsibilities simultaneously. For example, they might be navigating the challenges of parenting while working from home or getting drawn into addressing urgent home-related issues. This can result in a seamless transition from work to handling high-pressure family demands without any downtime.

Compounding this, friends or family members who perceive remote workers as having ample free time because they work from home might impose additional demands. Assumptions that they can readily provide assistance, such as babysitting or driving someone to an appointment, can contribute to chaotic situations and significantly contribute to burnout among remote workers.

Alleviating stress among remote workers poses a significant challenge, but effective management strategies can make a difference. Explore our informative guide on how you can assist your team in reducing stress and preventing burnout.


Outline the specific challenges associated with work-from-home burnout during the pandemic


The pandemic introduced an entirely new set of challenges for remote workers. Even those who were accustomed to remote work before March 2020 found themselves grappling with new stressors in their environment.

      • Family Issues: Home dynamics shifted significantly as individuals who were not typically present, such as children and partners who were previously at school or work all day, shared the same space with remote workers. Some individuals saw new people entering their living spaces, such as new roommates or elderly parents, each bringing additional responsibilities. The need for homeschooling added another layer of complexity.
      • Financial Issues: The pandemic triggered a reshuffling of jobs, leading to layoffs in certain industries like hospitality and services. Some individuals, particularly parents, left their jobs to care for family members, introducing financial strain.
      • Uncertainty: The early stages of the pandemic were marked by stress induced by supply chain disruptions and the collective effort to remain as safe as possible. This uncertainty took a toll on everyone, including remote workers.
      • Illness: Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the pandemic was the threat of COVID-19 itself. Workers grappled with anxiety about the health of friends and family members, and many faced the challenges of illness and the loss of loved ones.

While the situation with COVID-19 has become more manageable due to vaccines, the aftermath of the pandemic continues to induce stress. The experience of navigating through a global crisis contributes to burnout, particularly for those who did not take sufficient time off or neglected their mental health during this challenging period.

Identify the indicators and symptoms of burnout in a professional setting?


While the indicators of burnout vary from person to person, there are common symptoms shared by many experiencing work burnout:

      • Constant Busyness: If a team member is consistently busy but accomplishing little, it may signal burnout. When excessive time is spent on work to the detriment of other aspects, it serves as a potential warning sign.
      • Physical Symptoms: Prolonged stress can manifest physically, resulting in illnesses, aches, pains, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and even serious health concerns like high blood pressure or heart problems.
      • Mental Symptoms: Burnout can give rise to mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. Workers grappling with burnout may exhibit irritability and mood swings.
      • Environmental Signs: The environments of remote workers can offer clues about burnout, as noted by Jayne Morris, author of Burnout to Brilliance. Indicators may include clutter, piles of laundry, neglected plants, or malfunctioning appliances due to neglect. These environmental cues can reflect the impact of burnout on an individual’s ability to manage both work and personal responsibilities.


Examine the internal factors that contribute to burnout in a remote work environment


Internal drivers of burnout encompass a set of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that can heighten stress and contribute to the experience of burnout. Although each person’s internal dialogue is unique, there are common patterns of thinking that may lead to burnout feelings, including:

      • Feeling Constantly Busy: According to experts like Jayne Morris, persistent busyness is a prevalent internal driver of burnout. Individuals may have internal messages pushing them to “hurry up,” “keep going,” or “get back to work.” Such self-talk often traces back to childhood when there was an emphasis on avoiding idleness and returning promptly to tasks.
      • Perception of No Control: When a worker believes they lack control over their workload or decisions in their professional life, it can take a toll on their mental well-being. This sense of powerlessness may lead to the feeling of being constantly switched on at work or being subject to the whims of others.
      • Imposter Syndrome: Imposter syndrome involves feeling like a fraud despite evidence of success in one’s field. Recent research indicates that the stress associated with imposter syndrome is a contributing factor to burnout. This may be because individuals with imposter syndrome often feel compelled to work excessively hard to prove their effectiveness in their roles.


Explore the external factors that act as stressors leading to burnout in remote work scenarios


External stressors are external factors that contribute to burnout, encompassing elements like deadlines, stressful work situations, and non-work stressors such as family life.

      • Workload: While a manageable workload is beneficial, the recent trend of layoffs has resulted in some employees taking on additional responsibilities. An excessive workload is a significant contributor to burnout, particularly when it feels like the workload is continuously increasing.
      • Lack of Communication: Remote teams may inadvertently under-communicate, and a lack of communication from managers can contribute to uncertainty and stress. This is especially true when team members feel overwhelmed with their workload.
      • Absence of Downtime between Work and Home: Without a commute, remote workers may lack a period of decompression between work and home. This transitional time is crucial for individuals who need a moment to unwind after work. Going directly from work responsibilities to parenting or addressing home issues can further contribute to stress.


Propose strategies for coping with burnout in the workplace?


If you sense the onset of burnout at work, numerous strategies can be employed to prioritize self-care. The majority of these approaches center around slowing down, integrating self-care into your schedule, and cultivating healthy work habits.


Contemplate the option of taking a leave to facilitate recovery

If you’re grappling with work burnout, it’s likely an opportune moment to step back and grant yourself some time off. If feasible, contemplate taking a break solely for recuperation. This isn’t about addressing household chores or other responsibilities; rather, it’s a dedicated period to focus on self-care. Embrace the idea of doing nothing—allow your body and mind the essential rest they require.


Consider opting for a staycation

You can choose to take time off without the need to travel anywhere; simply opt for a staycation and relax at home. This might be the ideal choice for someone experiencing burnout who wishes to sidestep the stress associated with traveling.


Allocate specific time slots in your calendar dedicated to rest

Yes, I’m familiar with the saying, “If you don’t take a day off, your body will take a day off for you.” This holds true. When your body is consistently under the influence of adrenaline, and you lack sufficient rest, your susceptibility to illness increases. Additionally, stress-induced distraction can lead to accidents or injuries. Therefore, it’s crucial to proactively take time off and schedule designated days for rest on your calendar.


Initiate a conversation with your line manager

If you find yourself experiencing burnout at work, it’s essential to have a conversation with your boss. They should be aware of the challenges you’re facing. This may involve discussing the possibility of taking time off, reducing responsibilities, or establishing boundaries regarding your work hours. Open communication with your boss is crucial in finding solutions to alleviate burnout.


Carve out dedicated time for self-care

Taking the time to prioritize your own self-care is crucial, especially when dealing with constant stress. Jayne Morris suggests reflecting on activities that brought joy during childhood. As children, we instinctively knew how to take breaks by engaging in activities we loved, essentially through play.

Recall what brought you happiness as a child. If it was art, dedicate some time to draw or paint, without fretting about the quality of your creation. If you found joy in playing video games, indulge in a game—even if it’s been years since you last encountered Mario or Sonic. Revisit those childhood enjoyments to infuse a sense of play and rejuvenation into your present routine.


Outline steps for recovery after experiencing complete burnout in both personal and professional life?


If you find yourself grappling with total burnout, both in your professional and personal life, it’s imperative to take decisive action. Initiate a conversation with your manager and promptly schedule some time off. If resistance arises against the idea of taking a break, remember that burnout is a health concern—just as you would take time off for physical illness, burnout warrants the same attention. During your time off, focus on doing as little as possible, even if it means tolerating a less-than-tidy living space or delegating household chores to partners or family members while you recuperate.

Additionally, consider confiding in someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, or a professional like a therapist or doctor. Clearly communicate your struggles and collaboratively devise a plan for preventing burnout upon your return to work. Continue reading to discover practical strategies for avoiding burnout in the future.


Provide recommendations for preventing burnout in a work environment


Concentrate on accomplishing a few tasks each day.

At the beginning of each day, allocate some personal time to identify your top priorities. Instead of attempting to juggle numerous tasks, select one or two critical objectives that require attention and concentrate your efforts on those.

Be vigilant about monitoring your own signs and symptoms

As per Morris, your body often begins with subtle signals, like a “whisper,” to communicate its needs. Ignoring these signs may lead to your body intensifying its messages, akin to a “shout.” For instance, relying on coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening can be an initial whisper. If unaddressed, these whispers may escalate into more pronounced signs, such as headaches, exacerbation of preexisting conditions, or insomnia. If these indications go unheeded, it could potentially lead to more significant health issues in the future. Therefore, it’s crucial to attentively observe and respond to the early signs your body presents.


Develop the ability to say no when necessary

Declining requests can be challenging, particularly in a work setting, but establishing boundaries is crucial. For instance, you might opt to refuse a new project if your workload is already overwhelming. Setting firm limits on the time devoted to work is equally important. If you’ve designated 5 pm as your clock-out time, it’s imperative to adhere to that commitment. While it may be difficult, especially in the midst of a project, allowing yourself time to rest and recharge before the next workday is essential.


Establish systems that empower you to assertively resist or decline

Constructing workplace processes that align with your self-care is beneficial in preventing a recurrence of similar situations. This might involve implementing a buddy system with a coworker, mutually holding each other accountable for leaving work at a designated time. Alternatively, you could establish a specific work routine for yourself or negotiate an agreement with your manager, specifying a limit on the amount of work you take on each month. These proactive measures contribute to fostering a healthier work environment.


Cultivate a routine that incorporates self-care practices

Integrate your self-care activities into the beginning of your day, treating them with the same importance as any other significant work task. Jayne Morris recommends approaching the time dedicated to daily self-care as you would an essential meeting. Just as you wouldn’t skip a meeting with your boss, prioritizing and not skipping your self-care time is equally crucial.

Allocate time for walking, exercising, or practicing mindfulness every working day

Engaging in exercise, even if it’s just a simple walk, is an effective method to clear the mind. Similarly, practicing mindfulness and meditation can serve as excellent stress-relief strategies. Incorporate short meditation sessions, walks, or workout sessions into your workday schedule. Initially, it may seem challenging to step away from your desk, but you’ll likely discover that a brief walk not only clears your mind but also enhances your overall work effectiveness.


Explore the idea of a well-being bank account presented in the form of a spreadsheet

Consider your energy as a finite resource, similar to money, and create a spreadsheet to monitor your well-being. Design columns for debits and credits, documenting tasks that drain your energy and activities that replenish it. By visualizing your energy levels in a spreadsheet, you can easily identify periods when you may not be investing enough in activities that enhance your well-being and energy levels. This visual representation enables you to make informed adjustments to maintain a healthier balance.


Detail actions leaders can take to recognize and mitigate work-from-home burnout


Ensuring the success of your business relies on the well-being of your workforce. Establishing a sustainable panda work global work culture that fosters a sense of value and productivity among employees is essential. Here are several approaches leaders can adopt to prevent burnout in a work-from-home setting:


Be vigilant for signs indicating burnout

Ensure that team managers are well-versed in recognizing burnout indicators. Encourage them to be observant of changes in communication frequency, alterations in behavior during meetings, and any deviations in the quality of work compared to the employee’s usual standards. If managers suspect signs of burnout, it’s likely valid, and they should proactively reach out to ensure the employee’s well-being.


Establish clear agreements with teams regarding communication practices

Acknowledge and respect individual differences in communication preferences within your team. Encourage team members to feel comfortable turning off video during meetings, utilizing features like Do Not Disturb on communication platforms such as Slack, or scheduling breaks and walks as needed. Consider implementing Zoom-free days or designating video calls specifically for socialization purposes. Initiate open discussions with your team to understand their comfort levels with communication and collaboratively agree on a plan that accommodates everyone’s needs.


Organize a company-wide self-care day on the schedule

Promote a culture of self-care by instituting a company-wide self-care day. On this designated day, urge every member of your organization to engage in activities that contribute to their well-being. Some may opt for a spa treatment, while others might spend the day reading, participating in physical activities like hiking, or simply taking a nap. Encourage team members to share photos from their self-care day with the entire organization, fostering a sense of connection and accountability as colleagues witness how each person prioritizes their well-being.


Self-care begins with leadership

According to Morris, the most crucial step for a company is to embody kindness. Without a commitment to kindness, it becomes challenging for employees to extend kindness to themselves. A culture of self-care cannot be expected to thrive if the organization doesn’t actively promote it. This necessitates leaders not only encouraging self-care within their teams but also personally practicing self-care as a model for their employees.

Morris emphasizes, “It has to be something you recognize in your superiors. If they’re not practicing kindness for themselves, it’s hard for you to feel you have permission to practice kindness for yourself.”

Furthermore, leaders practicing self-care is essential because it’s difficult to be kind to others if you’re neglecting your own well-being. Morris likens it to the safety instructions on a plane: “It’s a bit like putting on an oxygen mask on a plane. You need to put it on yourself before you can put it on anyone else.”


Highlight the role of effectively managing work-from-home burnout as an integral aspect of being a valuable team member


In her book “Gift from the Sea,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh uses the metaphor of pitchers to discuss self-care. She suggests that when you continually pour out from your pitcher without taking the time to refill it, the pitcher will eventually run dry. This depletion leaves you with no energy to give to others, including yourself.

While it might initially seem challenging or self-centered to take time off for self-care, especially if you’re experiencing burnout, it’s crucial to recognize that neglecting your well-being hinders your ability to be the best employee. Taking a pause to care for yourself and replenish your “pitcher” is essential. Work will still be awaiting your return after a period of rest, but it’s important to remember that you, too, are a finite resource.

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