How to overcome overwork and burnout while working remotely
Are you or someone in your team struggling to work remotely?
In an informal poll we did recently, one third of people said they were struggling with working remotely. This is the first in a series of blogs where we look at the main reasons for this problem and what you can do about them.
This time last year, working remotely was just a dream for many. Now that dream has become reality but, for some, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve worked largely at home for over a decade and, on the whole, I enjoy it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its challenges.
What are the main reasons why people struggle to work remotely?
There are many individual reasons why people can struggle to work remotely. Often, when one of the reasons exists in isolation, it isn’t such a big deal and may not have a huge impact. However, when several of these reasons are present, it can have a devastating impact on wellbeing and performance.
The problem of Overwork and Burnout
One of the main issues people are struggling with working remotely is the ease to succumb to overwork and burnout. While this is by no means a new problem, when you only have to take a few steps between your bedroom and the “office” it can be really difficult to set boundaries.
When you hear the ping of an email at 21:10, can you resist opening the laptop?
When life and work happen in the same space, it is easy to fall into the trap of being always “on” rather than having a set start and finish time. There are no colleagues to chat to in the kitchen when you decide to make yourself a coffee. Suddenly, you find yourself working longer hours than you would in the office.
Additionally, remote working means less commuting time for most people. We end up working for at least part of the time we would have been commuting in the past, sometimes extending our working day for 1-2 hours.
Even though we may not be missing our daily commute, we may be missing the valuable opportunity it gave us to transition between home and work. The transition between work and home is an important one – the two ‘spaces’ require different energy and attention. When we don’t have the opportunity to transition, this can contribute to the feeling that we are constantly “on”, which contributes to feeling overworked, overwhelmed and burnt out.
The added pressures of trying to do our work in a physical environment that may not be optimal and following processes, rules and norms that weren’t designed for remote work are also a factor. We are constantly having to adapt and make the best of the situation, which can sap our all too easily depleted energy!
The solution: Boundaries & Breaks
There isn’t a quick and easy fix to overwork and burnout, but there are a number of things you can (and must) do to resolve the situation and get back on an even keel.
Recognise that you can control how you respond
The mistake many people make with overwork and burnout is that they feel it is beyond their control and that they don’t have a choice but to continue in the same way. Whilst we may not be able to change the amount of work we have; we can change how we respond to the situation.
Set some boundaries
What these boundaries will look like will depend on your work. Try setting reasonable (ie, not 12 hours a day) core working hours that you stick to, unless there is an emergency. Turn off your notifications on your phone/laptop or leave them in another room. Communicate your working hours to your manager and team. Explain to them that you need to put some boundaries in place and encourage them to do the same. If you don’t set boundaries and you end up burnt out, you risk long term health consequences and months off work. It is far better for everyone if you make changes before you get to that stage.
Make sure you take regular breaks
Set calendar reminders to take regular breaks if you need to. Force yourself to go out for a walk at least once a day during working hours. Call a friend or family member. Spend 10-15 minutes doing something that warms your soul.
Think about how you will transition between your home and work
What did you do on your daily commute? Listen to music, podcasts or read books? Can you spend 15 minutes or more doing the same before you start work or at the end of your working day to make it feel more like home time? How about a walk or exercise session immediately before or after starting work?
Delegate work or tasks
If your overwork is caused purely by having too much work to do in too little time, then think about whether there are any tasks that are appropriate to delegate to others.
Speak to your manager or HR team about the situation
Although you may be reluctant to do this, having that conversation is better than ending up suffering from burnout and being away from work for months.
According to the World Bank, we’re on the verge of the deepest global recession since the Second World War. Millions of people have lost their jobs and many of us feel the pressure to prove ourselves and work harder than ever. However, overwork and burnout have deep emotional and health-related problems so it is imperative that we deal with this issue at a personal, organisational and societal level.
Although overwork and burnout may feel overwhelming and that the situation is completely outside our control, it is important to remember that there is always something we can do to improve the situation.
Work is a huge part of our lives. The average person spends around 90,000 hours of their life working, so it is essential that we are healthy and fulfilled at work.
If you’d like to make the most of those 90,000 hours in your team or organisation, please email us at [email protected] to schedule a call to explore how we can help you.
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