One perk of working from home, aside from casual wear and better lunches, is the short commute. Instead of the 27.1 minutes Americans used to spend traveling each way to work, many now need only walk a few steps to their home office setup.
But as if on cue, workdays have gotten longer during lockdown. The average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes since the start of stay-at-home orders, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Though working more while working from home may seem like a good thing for your organization, it comes with a new and potentially costly challenge: work from home burnout.
Why your best employees are most at risk for work from home burnout
Employee burnout is prolonged workplace stress that shows up as exhaustion, inefficacy and cynicism in your team. It creeps in through workload overload, lack of manager support, inadequate feedback and feeling out of the loop on decision-making — concerns amplified by new remote working arrangements.
Not to mention that non-work stress is at an all-time high. Employees are stressed at work about illness, civil unrest, personal finances, child care and more.
Limeade Institute research shows that employees who experience greater levels of stress are more likely to feel tired, fed up, ineffective — burned out. Our research also reveals that your most engaged employees feel the impacts of stress more than unengaged employees. So employees who care deeply about their work and contributions — your top performers — are most at risk for burnout.
The costs of employee burnout
Burnout means low productivity and high turnover — especially turnover of your most engaged people.
Studies show that losing an employee can cost up to twice their salary. Those costs can include severance and benefits continuation, recruiting and hiring, and onboarding and training, as well as the loss of productivity from an experienced employee.
But employee attrition and turnover are preventable if employers focus on building an intentional employee experience to reduce burnout.
How to recognize burnout and working from home
Employee disengagement is harder to recognize now that your team is rarely face to face. So managers must step up their awareness of the warning signs of burnout. Some cues to look and listen for to help determine if your team is burned out:
- A productive employee who isn’t getting as much done
- Inability to concentrate
- Emotional or physical exhaustion through work or outside stress
- A change in attitude
- A decrease in communication with managers, colleagues and customers
- An increase in illness and decline in health
The good news is with strong manager support, employers can prevent their top talent from burning out while working remotely.
8 ways to prevent work from home burnout
1. Reconnect your people to their purpose
Having a real emotional connection to their work helps employees put things into perspective when work (and life) gets stressful. As you figure out how to make remote work manageable for your team, ask employees for ideas and feedback. This exercise will help give them a sense of purpose and ownership over their role.
2. Keep meetings to a minimum
Let’s face it, meetings can be disruptive and Zoom fatigue is real. The number of meetings is up 13% since stay-at-home orders began, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research report. (Mercifully, the meetings are shorter, research shows.) To cause less disruption to your employee’s day, consider marking them as “optional” on meeting invites if their presence isn’t really required. This action will keep them in the loop while giving them a pass to focus on other things.
3. Watch out for inbox overload
Internal emails are up more than 5% post-lockdown and there are more recipients on those emails, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The report didn’t find an increase in external emails during the same period, so be mindful not to add to inbox overload from inside the organization.
4. Respect work-life boundaries
With more people trying to work and live in one space, it’s harder than ever not to feel like you’re living at work. But helping employees make that distinction is key to preventing work from home burnout. Use your email’s scheduling function to avoid after-hours communication. If your team relies heavily on a communication platform, consider investing in a scheduling integration.
5. Schedule regular check-ins
You’ve surely heard the saying that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. Be a communicative, supportive manager by offering one-on-one time to each of your employees on a schedule that works for both parties. Ask them about their workload and work-life balance, and be prepared to address concerns. This time is invaluable in helping you assess risk of burnout especially while everyone’s working remotely.
6. Take time to disconnect
Your employees may be hesitant to take time off in a pandemic. Sure, vacation options are limited, but your employees also may be concerned about job security amid record unemployment. They don’t want to appear disengaged, even if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Encourage employees to prioritize well-being and use their PTO whether it’s a sick day or a staycation. Managers can model this behavior by taking time off themselves and communicating it clearly with their teams.
7. Give parents a hand
As some schools open, and then close again, there’s no relief in sight for many parents working from home with children. Managers can ease this significant stress by being flexible — allow parents extra time off or shift their work hours to accommodate child care needs. Simple gestures of care during a crisis are key to preventing burnout among the parents on your team.
8. Get help companywide
Burnout isn’t a personal issue, it’s a company issue that needs to be addressed at all levels. If your organization is struggling to prevent work from home burnout — uncharted waters for many companies — consider implementing an employee well-being platform that demonstrates care by reaching every employee, listening to them, and offering resources and programs.