You have probably heard the term “burnout”. The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as a syndrome that includes a sense of emotional fatigue, loss of a sense of personal accomplishment and a lack of self-compassion that can appear as depersonalization. This has been considered a work-related syndrome, and during this time of Covid 19, it has been more and more common, particularly in health care workers. This syndrome can result from chronic stress in the workplace characterized by exhaustion, lack of concentration, irritability or insomnia, among other symptoms.
It can also show up while we are working from home and this article addresses ways in which we may be able to prevent burnout from creeping into our lives and begin affecting our motivation and efficiency at work. Studies have shown that working from home has produced a major detriment to productivity and has increased the stress levels of workers.
We contacted Dr. Ross Michael Ungerleider, who has gained extensive experience promoting health and wellness in the workplace. Dr. Ungerleider has campaigned for and published suggestions for individuals working in high stress environments. He has identified that “burn out” and “stress” remains a significant factor in depleting productivity and wellbeing of workers.
Among many suggestions, Dr. Ungerleider proposes the following guide to reduce stress for work-from-home employees:
1. Prioritize schedules and set boundaries to protect your personal life.
The reality is that teleworking has positive aspects, from the possibility of spending more time with the family, the flexibility of schedules, to saving time and money related to travel. In fact, according to the study 'Happiness in the workplace', conducted by Udemy for Business, having a good work-life balance is the most important factor for workers (37%), above any other aspect.
However, teleworking is not - or at least it should not be - synonymous with 24/7 availability and this is something very important that both workers and companies should be clear about.
While we may encounter times during which it is practically necessary to invest more hours, it is imperative to understand that this investment should be temporary, and not begin to develop into a general pattern.
This situation of lengthening working hours day by day and for a long period of time generates mental and physical wear and tear on anyone. In this way, it is essential to stick to schedules, establish priorities and optimize our time. Likewise, it is important to know how to differentiate between urgent and important. There are many questions that can be last minute, but are they really important?
2. Breaks, a fundamental requirement in telework days
While there are some who have a great capacity for concentration and who are able to maintain it for long hours, the reality is that our mind and body need breaks to maintain productivity.
To achieve this balance so that our productivity and mental sharpness is not impaired, it is helpful to set designated times to take breaks during the workday. This does not necessarily require us to stop during times when we are in the middle of a very productive time, but it is useful to recognize when one segment of work may be shifting to another and this may be a valuable time to take a break so that we can clear our minds and prepare for our next productive session.
We can also use these breaks to stretch our muscles and to do something more physical to increase blood flow through our bodies. Research repeatedly demonstrates the value of physical activity in enhancing mental acuity and overall well-being. In addition, of course, we must respect meal times and maintain a healthy diet, since, as stated by the International Labor Organization (ILO), eating improperly can reduce labor productivity by up to 30%.
3. Trust, the basis for leading teams remotely
While working from home, some people may feel that their superiors might not trust that they are being truly productive. This can create a need to work harder and to demonstrate that working from home is valuable for the organization. This might manifest as taking on more tasks than usual, leading to working even more hours than is typical. This work overload together with the feeling of 'not being able to do everything' causes stress in the worker that can lead to a ' burnout '.
Although this exhaustion may perhaps be more common among managers and senior executives, due to their level of responsibility within companies, this syndrome can affect any worker. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Mexico has a 75% prevalence of stress in its workforce.
In this sense, it is essential that there is a solid foundation of trust between the worker and the company that when working from home, the worker is responsible and committed to the needs of the organization and is using the ability to work from home as a method to stay safe while maintaining productivity. Team leaders can help to encourage this by letting employees know how much they appreciate the continued efforts of the employees and also express to them how important it is for them to stay safe. In this way, workers will have the security they need to continue working while understanding the importance of maintaining a semblance of balance between work and personal life.