With COVID lockdowns and social isolation in place from earlier this year, many people are now working from home. While there are multiple benefits – no traffic, more time with family, the comforts of home, healthier meal planning – there are also problems. Not everyone has a home office, and without a dedicated area to separate work from home life, boundaries can start to blur.
The last thing you need is unnecessary stress in your life from having overworked yourself to the point of exhaustion. That’s why we’ve put together this article to help you understand what work-from-home burnout is, why it happens, and how to recognise it. We’ve also provided you with tips on avoiding it and what you can do to recover.
What is work-from-home burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion brought on by extended periods of stress, leaving you feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally drained.
The overarching reason people start suffering burnout while working from home is that they can’t separate themselves from their work. When you have a workplace that you travel to and from, your work stays there, left behind when you head home after your shift. When you’re working from home, it’s always accessible, and it can be harder to step away at the end of the day and switch off.
As a result, you end up working longer hours, feeling compelled to keep working; there is always more work to be done, and you have constant access. Emails and messages that come through after work hours, which you wouldn’t have seen until your next shift, are now taking up your evening. After all, you have access to your workstation, so you’re getting ahead on tomorrow’s schedule, right?
What you’re actually doing is placing your mind and body in a constant state of stress. By cutting into your leisure and family time, you’re removing the chance to unwind, relax, and re-energise for the next day. You’re destroying your work-life balance and setting yourself up for chronic fatigue.
How to recognise work-from-home burnout
With all the changes COVID has brought about, you might not recognise work-from-home burnout straightaway. It’s easy to mistakenly attribute the exhaustion to the stress of the current pandemic. If you can relate to any of the following symptoms, you’re probably experiencing work-from-home burnout.
- Feeling compelled to always be ‘switched on.’
Are you having difficulty disconnecting from work at the end of the day and enjoy your leisure time without checking your work emails and messages? Are you checking and responding to notifications and updates first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or during family time? If so, you’re running the risk of burnout if you aren’t already there.
- Starting or thinking about work produces a sense of dread
Do you wake up in the morning with a sense of dread about the day ahead? Are you experiencing nausea and feelings of being trapped at the thought of work? It’s a sign that you’re stressed and burnt out, both mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Even if you aren’t consciously aware that you’re burnt out, your body will know it and try to avoid the activities that caused it. If you’re suddenly finding time to do everything except work (including those household tasks that you’ve been putting off), it’s a good indication that you’re burnt out.
- Mood changes
Are you finding that you’re suddenly experiencing inexplicable mood changes? Burnout can leave you emotionally exhausted, leading to break downs, irritability, bursts of anger, and sadness.
- Feeling discouraged about work
Have you found that you no longer take the same pride in your work as you did previously? If your accomplishments have started to feel hollow or you’ve noticed yourself becoming apathetic about your work, you’re likely burnt out.
- Physical distress
Stress can present physical symptoms, including headaches, chest pain, illness, dizziness, heart palpitations, and gastrointestinal discomfort. While everyone has their sick days, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, or are unwell more than usual, it could be your body telling you it’s stressed.
How to prevent work-from-home burnout
Since work-from-home burnout is caused by a lack of separation between work-life balance, the way to prevent it is to create clear boundaries and stick to them.
Designate your workspace
Start by creating a designated workspace – don’t worry if you don’t have a home office or a study, though very handy, they aren’t your only options. All you need is a desk and chair, even if you just make a space at the end of the kitchen table. Wherever you set up is your new workplace.
It may seem like a small thing, but establishing that space in your mind is crucial to keeping your work separate from the rest of your home life. At the end of your designated shift, create a barrier that replicates the habit of leaving the office – if you have a study, shut the door. Kitchen table? Pack up the laptop or throw a sheet over your borrowed work computers, so they’re out of sight, and you can switch to home time.
Set up daily routines before you start and at the end of your designated shift hours to help you get in and out of your work headspace. For example, in the morning, you might get up, have breakfast, and do a workout before sitting down to your job. At the end of your shift, have an ‘end of business day’ routine that helps you mentally shut down from work, including tidying up your workspace.
Eat regular, healthy meals. One of the great things about being at home is that you have access to your kitchen for meal prep. Eat your scheduled meals away from your workspace, giving yourself a proper lunch break; you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Schedule in at least 15-20 minutes of exercise every day. Even if it’s just a walk around the neighbourhood, the movement and fresh air are both beneficial for your mental state, improving your mood and overall health.
Develop a consistent bedtime and routine, giving yourself at least an hour away from electronic devices before sleep. It helps your body and mind wind down and relax, providing a better night’s sleep, and a healthier you.
How to recover from work-from-home burnout
If you’re suffering from burnout, you’re probably ready to throw in the towel, get away from work for a while and take a break. While this will help you to replenish your energy, it’s not really a solution. Work-from-home burnout is a chronic condition; implementing the preventative strategies mentioned earlier before you return to work is essential to avoid the cycle of exhaustion.
Talk to your boss
It’s a good idea to build a relationship with your boss or team lead and tell them how you’re feeling. If you can’t take some time off, check in with them regularly to let them know how you are and your recovery progress.
If you’re nervous about bringing the situation up with your supervisor, take the time to sit down and work out what you think you might need beforehand. For example, whether you need some time off, reduced hours temporarily, if there’s support your workplace can provide, etc. Being prepared will make discussions with your boss about how to proceed easier. If you’re still uncomfortable, consider reaching out to your workplace HR.
Schedule personal time
Allocate time in your schedule every day to have some time to yourself, doing something you enjoy, away from your phone and computer. Read a book, go for a walk, work on a hobby, or do some exercise, for example. Give yourself permission to do something that you enjoy, which has nothing to do with your work.
Stick to your boundaries
When you have your work/life boundaries established, be strict about sticking to them. Checking ‘just one’ notification is a slippery slope, and you’ll find you lose time to completing work after hours again, continuing the cycle of burnout. If you’re concerned that you have too much work to do, remind yourself that you’ll work more effectively and provide better quality work if you aren’t burnt out. Your health isn’t worth the risk.
Stay Safe and Healthy…