Many companies are approaching the milestone of having been remote for double digit months. Some large companies like Amazon have already extended their remote work conditions through summer 2021, while others like Twitter have announced that employees can work remotely forever.
While the lack of commute and flexible arrangement may allow some of your employees to have a better work-life balance, it might be having the opposite effect on others.
According to a July 2020 survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 75% of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40% reporting burnout specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why are remote workers getting burnt out?
Another recent survey shed light on why remote workers specifically are being hit by burnout. The OnePoll research revealed:
- 67% of remote workers feel pressured to be available at all hours of the day
- 65% of remote workers reported working longer hours since going remote
- 60% of remote workers fear that their jobs will be at risk if they don’t go above and beyond normal work hours and duties
- 63% of remote workers feel that taking time off is discouraged by their employer.
With people not having the visual proof and accountability of working together in an office, employees feel that they have to overcompensate by working excessive hours and being continuously available. If they’re always working and always available, nobody can accuse them of “slacking off” when working autonomously.
How to recognize remote employee burnout
Keeping the mindsets as listed above when working for a company is simply not sustainable. It does lead to burnout, which includes fatigue, decreased performance, anxiety, depression, and even physical health issues.
It’s important that employers get ahead of the issue by recognizing the signs of employee burnout and taking action to help mitigate burnout with a better work-life balance. Here are some signs that your remote employees may be experiencing burnout:
- Responding to emails or work chat channels outside of work hours and on the weekends.
- Decreasing work quality and output despite an increase in working hours.
- Avoiding taking PTO, even if the days don’t roll over to the next year.
- Changing disposition.
- Increasing health issues.
Overall, you know your employees pretty well. Check in with managers and team leaders to get a feel for how their teams are doing. If they feel that something is “off” with an employee, it might be a good opportunity to step in and see if they are experiencing burnout.
But it’s not enough to just identify burnout; employers need to take concrete steps to mitigate current cases and prevent future ones.
How to help remote employees achieve better work-life balance and overcome burnout
To help ensure your remote employees aren’t getting burnt out, employers can make some key cultural and procedural changes:
- Offer flexibility in working hours. Many employees are also juggling childcare responsibilities and assisting with virtual learning. Let’s say 9:30am is the busiest time of their day as a parent-- letting them work 10am-6pm relieves the pressure of feeling like they are failing at their job if they don’t answer a work call at 9:30am or feeling like they are failing as a parent if they do.
- Encourage employees to set boundaries. Send frequent reminders that employees are not obligated to work outside of their scheduled hours, and that includes returning emails or work chats. Encourage them to remove their work items from their phone unless it’s absolutely necessary for their job, or at least turn off push notifications so they aren’t tempted to answer anything outside of work hours.
- Proactively encourage PTO. Periodically remind everyone how many PTO days they have left and strategically word the reminder in a way that encourages them to use them. For example, if it’s November and PTO days don’t roll over to the next calendar year, reach out to an individual and say “you have four PTO days left that expire in 41 days, when can I be expecting you to take those days?” This shows that it’s not only acceptable to take PTO days, it’s encouraged.
- Destigmatize the “stay-cation.” Just because people can’t travel doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a vacation. Encourage people to take multiple days in a row off by sending “stay-cation” inspiration from your area, or other ways to enjoy time off at home.
- Create virtual wellness initiatives. Offer online yoga classes, subscriptions to mental health and meditation apps, or have a virtual exercise challenge to help improve mental and physical health.
- Limit video meetings to only what’s necessary. Zoom fatigue is a leading cause of burnout. There’s been a push to have as many video conference meetings as a way to maintain “face to face contact,” but too many can have the opposite effect. If someone spends 85% of their day in video conferences, they don’t have time to get their own work done until after the workday ends.
- Lead by example. Encourage team leads and managers to use their PTO and set work boundaries. Encourage them to not send late night emails to their teams or work on the weekends to catch up, since everyone on the team will have an expectation to do the same.
While remote work certainly has its benefits for many of your employees, blurring the line between work and home can be dangerous. By identifying cases of burnout and implementing steps to get rid of it, you can improve work-life balance for your employees even when work and life happen at the same place.