Fighting Burnout During COVID-19
Living and working during the COVID-19 outbreak is a test of patience, strength, and endurance. Even those of us lucky enough to be working from home struggle to maintain work-life-balance and manage our stress day after day. Most of us did not start our jobs expecting to have to manage work projects, barking dogs, and families all at the same time and place; but now that we must, our circumstances can seem overwhelming and the associated stress can lead to workplace burnout.
For those of you that don’t know, burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
Reduced professional efficacy
In other words, it is the feeling of physical, mental, and emotional fatigue that stems from un-managed workplace stress.
Unfortunately for many of us, our workplace and home are no longer separate spaces. We have lost, not only the peace of our commute to work and the comfort of human interaction, but the physical barrier that helps us separate our personal and professional lives. Not only are many of us working harder, but because we are no longer having to “go- home”, we miss out on the time and distance we usually depend upon to decompress and switch out of our professional modes.
Managing this is a particularly difficult task for working parents, who are not only having to juggle their usual workloads and the stress of the time but the full-time job of caring for and helping to educate their children.
It is a tremendous amount of work, and naturally, a tremendous amount of stress – so it should be no surprise that many of us are beginning to suffer from workplace burnout. As impossible as managing the stress of our personal and professional lives might seem, it is important to remember that burnout is not just an inconvenient problem we can ignore. The longer it is left unaddressed, the more severe the consequences. Giving to our personal or professional lives at the expense of your mental health is productive for no one, and it is in everyone’s best interest that we try and fight workplace-burnout.
So, How Do We Manage? There are many ways to try and reduce stress and fight workplace burnout, but the practices I’ve found most helpful are those that help me to remember my boundaries and take time for self-care.
Scheduling breaks throughout the day and especially at the beginning and end of the work period. It helps me to stay motivated, focused, and energized.
Clocking out (for real) and staying away from work calls or emails outside of office hours keeps work contained in the workday and prevents it from taking over much needed personal time or at-home responsibilities. However, it is important to remember that taking personal time and taking time to fulfill household responsibilities are not the same thing. Yes, clocking out can help you separate work from home, but it can also help separate the pressures of home from you. I've found that the 20 minutes of absolute peace spent binge watching Netflix or reading a chapter from that book I keep wanting to start are absolutely worth scheduling.
Taking time to maintain my health by scheduling time to eat, exercise, meditate, and relax has also helped to give me a sense of routine and make sure that I am remembering to eat, maintain a healthy mindset, and reap all of the benefits that come with exercise. I’ve also found that a short run right after work doubles as a great way to help me switch to an out-of-work mindset.
I know the extra time might seem like a luxury or a waste, but it is important to remember that the time and effort put into improving your mental and physical health is an investment- and a necessary one, at that. It is easy to slip into a cycle of stress and over-work, and studies show that despite remote workers having the same need for personal time and sick leave, they are far less likely than their traditional working counter-parts to take it and far more likely to work overtime.
So, from one remote worker to another, take the extra time to manage your stress, and fight work-place burnout. My methods, while they work for me, are only suggestions and I strongly encourage you to find what works best for your situation and share it with us in the comments.
“Burn-out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 May 2019, www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/.
 Wilkie, Dana. “With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the 'Sick Day' Becoming Passé?” SHRM - Better Work Places, Better Worlds. SHRM, August 16, 2019. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/remote-workers-and-sick-days-.aspx.