| Nov 12, 2020

Working Remotely Has Increased Productivity — Now, How Do We Prevent Burnout?

For many, working from home has enabled more production -- by blurring the lines between work and home life, resulting in burnt-out employees. Thankfully, there are methods we can use to help restore balance.
Employee burnout scaled
By David Partain |

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Even through all the new stresses the pandemic has brought on, experts are finding that remote work setups don’t hurt productivity in most cases — in fact, they often increase it. The concern, however, has become burnout. Managers and entrepreneurs have always worried about this with their teams. But unique elements related to working from home, such as feeling like more hours translates to visibility, can raise the risk. As a leader, you need to help workers manage any anxiety and exhaustion well.

Burnout Is About More Than the Work Load

Burnout isn’t necessarily just about the amount of work you have. It’s also about how you are connected, both to the task and your team.

You can usually cope better with work stress if you’re passionate about the job. That’s because whenever things get rough or challenging, you can lean on your big picture “why” to stay motivated and keep perspective.

Stress can also go up if you feel like you don’t have anybody who understands or who can help. A lot of people need social interaction to get a sense of normalcy, so if you’re isolated, it can be really hard to stay happy, focused, and get stuff done.

So when you think about managing burnout, you really have to go beyond what’s assigned. You have to think about whether workers have a sense of purpose and inclusion/support, too.


Burnout-Busting Strategies to Use Every Day

Every business is a little different, but generally speaking, most can use these methods to combat burnout:

1. Do something physical.

We already know we need physical breaks to relax our muscles and prevent problems like eye strain or repetitive stress injuries. But physical activity might be even more important now, because a lot of workers don’t have the ideal ergonomic workspace at home. Movement breaks can keep you more comfortable so you don’t slip into a crankier mood.

For me, physical activity translates to starting my day off with a walk. It’s free exercise, but it’s also a peaceful time for myself where I can think. So, it’s beneficial to my mental health, too. But some people find it’s equally therapeutic to bash stress with something more aggressive like boxing. Just pick something you enjoy and can be consistent at.

2. Keep a strict schedule with defined breaks.

Unpredictability can steal away your sense of control. If you don’t feel in control, then your risk of feeling stressed and burned out skyrockets. So give yourself a routine you can stick to for the most part. Maybe that means always starting your day with a solid breakfast or always making all your calls after your meetings. Just set your priorities, plunk them on your agenda, and stick to the plan.

Part of your schedule should be deliberate breaks. They give your brain a chance to downshift so you can do more critical thinking later. But they also help you take stock and balance the serious stuff with a little play. I like to watch some mindless television to unwind, but non-digital activities like reading a good book or calling a friend are great, too.

No matter what’s on your calendar or when you take your breaks, make a clear clock-out time part of your plan. This is really critical for ensuring people don’t pull you into more work than you want or realistically can handle, and it will help you mentally compartmentalize your job and home life better.

3. Arrange your workspace the way you want.

Again, I understand that perfect ergonomic setups aren’t always possible. But arrange your space as best you can and then put everything where it needs to be — functionally and aesthetically — for you. This will keep you from a lot of unnecessary physical hassle, and you’ll enjoy being in the space more. If you’re sharing the space with a partner or others, just find some good compromises or invest in some modular options.

4. Meet up consistently.

Even if it’s just a 5-minute check-in once a week, talking to your manager or those you supervise goes a long way for bonding and keeping trust high. Make time to meet up regularly and see how everyone is doing, just like you would if you were in the office.

Burnout will likely be a major concern for leaders well into the post-pandemic future. But you can be proactive about fighting it, even if a lot of your team stays remote. If you can think about your workspace setup, stay active, use your schedule to stay in control, and make it a point to reach out, you’ll be well prepared and ahead of the curve.

David Partain
Executive Author

Chief Marketing Officer, Flexshares

David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds. view profile


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