Why Burnout Can Be an Issue in a Remote Work Setup

Why Burnout Can Be an Issue in a Remote Work Setup

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written on November 2021 by Magda Sowierszenko

Burnout is a common consequence of working under stressful conditions for a long time. It is a state of complete exhaustion on every level: mental, physical and emotional, and sometimes also causing anxiety. As employers, we are responsible for our employees which among others means taking measures to prevent them from burnout.

Iwo Szapar – Remote Work Advocate & CEO @Remote-how in his book “Remote work is the way” has devoted an entire chapter on burnout in remote work setup. Here’s a part of it:

“People working remotely full-time generally report that they are satisfied in their job at higher rates than office workers, even going so far as to say they would rather look for another job than have to abandon their remote status and return to the office. So what’s the problem?

In offices, just showing up and sitting in a meeting room is enough to show you’re committed and contributing.

But remote workers feel a need to demonstrate their performance in a way that can be impossible to achieve.

As a result, they work longer than before and feel more under pressure. More than half say they are putting in over 40 hours a week. Close to half of workers said they were “burned out” after working from home due to a lack of work-life balance.

The distance can create a sense of thinking – whether it’s true or not – that people are being ignored or not getting their fair share. One study found that team members who worked from home at least part of the time were 52 percent more likely to feel left out or mistreated, and to have trouble resolving conflict with their co-workers.

Loneliness might sound like a cheesy problem to have, but it’s the underlying root of many burnout problems. A survey by Buffer found that 16% of workers found loneliness to be a challenge when working remotely. When we think about some of the problems that people run into when working remotely, feeling lonely almost always comes to the top of the pile. It’s natural that employees who are working away from others and in their own setting can from time to time miss the company of their teammates. It’s not just a remote issue though, it’s also part of a broad, global loneliness trend.

Part of it is being physically isolated at home – fewer people to interact with each day, more time to ourselves. Part of that is about relationships – if you like your co-workers, things tend to run more smoothly. But getting to know your co-workers at all in a fully remote environment is already a challenge. If you can’t form healthy bonds with the people you’re working alongside, it’s easier to feel stressed, mistrustful and to sow doubt among a team.

But with virtual happy hours and Zoom calls every other hour, why are we still feeling so separated? It could be because the bonding process just takes longer over a screen than it does in person. Patience may be part of the solution.

A major cause of the burnout issue is our old friend e-mail. Even despite all of our learning about asynchronous communication, there’s still an underlying need to respond right away, a pressure to be always on and show presence, even at the oddest times of the day.

In the COVID-19 era, workers seem to be having more and more trouble separating their work and non work lives. The pandemic seems to have caused those work-life balances issues to jump significantly. This was likely unavoidable, as the issues of transitioning to remote work are facing off against the stress of protecting and caring for our families, friends and loved ones in physically and emotionally draining times. The lines between what we think about at work and at home now seem to be inextricable.

The impact of that is going to show up disproportionately for women. Research suggests that being female was associated with greater family-to-work conflict and greater stress and burnout, whereas being perceived as ‘flexible’ results in less burnout. These findings support the idea that traditional gender roles and gender bias contribute to burnout, which is especially significant for women working remotely with children at home.

And since things aren’t necessarily getting easier, no matter what we wish, we need to find ways to stem burnout as an issue, rather than just waiting it out.”

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