Managing Burnout during WFH (due to COVID-19)
Authors: Swarali Sonar, Vipul Paliwal (1st Oct 2020)
“Most anyone can learn to be a great virtual employee.
The top skills to learn are setting healthy boundaries between your work life and
personal life and building relationships virtually.”
- Larry English
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of overwhelming exhaustion resulting from chronic workplace stress that isn’t managed successfully or is a state of vital exhaustion (ICD-10). According to Maslach,
Schaufeli & Leiter (2001), it is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job and is characterized by the three dimensions namely, exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.
Alarmingly, “ two-thirds of full-time workers are dealing with burnout at some point
while at work,” stated Gallup (2019). The escalating burnout levels and its negative
impact had been a matter of concern, especially in the times of COVID, a global health
crisis in 2020. Thus, the need to address, understand, and buffer burnout is an all-time high.
What causes burnout?
The causes of burnout are due to various factors, few of them are high workload, long
hours of draining work, perceived lack of control, perfectionism, failed work relationship,
& reward-value mismatch (Saunders, 2019). Another essential cause is incongruence between your sense of self or your goals & your work. Moreover, a lack of job resources/support could also lead to burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Thus, the causes are not limited to a few factors and can vary extensively. One vital way to address the burnout causes is to develop a better understanding of Burnout. There are various frameworks that explain Burnout, here is one, “ Five Stages of Burnout ”.
How does burnout take a toll on us?
The symptoms of burnout are not limited to these hallmarks symptoms: emotional
exhaustion reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization ( Hendriksen, 2019).
Moreover, the employee also recorded feelings of hopelessness, apathy, and emptiness as
well. Furthermore, there are numerous other health issues associated with burnout, which
are headache, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms, and the likelihood of
drug, food, or alcohol abuse, to mention a few.
Burnout itself, along with its consequences, could take a toll on your productivity, role
clarity, and even job satisfaction ( Fogarty, Singh, Rhoads, & Moore, 2000). It could lead
to detrimental effects on physical as well as mental health, organizational commitment, and work-family balance ( Ümit Baran Metin, 2010 ).
Is WFH contributing to burnout?
“I’m not working from Home, I’m living at Work”
Burnout could be a product of multiple petty things piling up. For instance, the lack of boundaries around your work, resulting in your work and family life overlapping each other. Along with the absence of routine and exercise, which could cause a decrease in efficiency, productivity, & concentration, along with causing lethargy and declining physical health.
According to Hayes, Priestley, Ray, & Ishmakhametov (2020 ) perceived stress did increase during COVID-19 restrictions, particularly with individuals who had no prior or limited experience of working from home and were female. Moreover, it is interesting to note that prior COVID-19 had higher levels of work-related burnout among individuals and didn’t differ by gender or part-time work status. In conclusion, WFH may contribute to more stress and result in burnout. Hence, it is very essential to alleviate the causes of and learn how to effectively deal with burnout.
How to effectively deal with burnout?
10 Simple Practices that aid in managing the work-stress, declining the chances of
1. Essential breaks: Researchers suggest that taking breaks during work alleviates
stress and boosts the productivity and well-being of the employee (Fritz, et al, 2013).
Hence, taking 10 min breaks after a couple of hours of work is essential. It will
help you concentrate on your work better.
2. Leisure time: Engaging in your hobby whenever possible once a day is important,
since we are confined to our houses, and particularly our work desk, which would
likely increase stress, anxiety, and depression especially in females ( Wang, et al.,
3. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is being in the moment, following the “here and now”,
paying attention, and accepting your every thought and action without judgment.
Practicing mindfulness is found to have several advantages, like reducing negative
emotions and stress, helps us concentrate more by ignoring distractions, and
increases attention and decision making skills. It helps us have a better sense of
self, which is related to a decrease in the chances of burnout (GGSC).
4. Monotasking: Multiple researchers suggest that monotasking is more effective
and efficient than multitasking. Since, multitasking has found to have negative
effects on task performance ( Lascau, et. al., 2019 ), and increases the time it takes
to complete a task (Vregelaar, 2019).
5. Tech-free time: Set an hour away from your devices and work before going to
bed. This will help you sleep better and worry-free, along with allowing you to
spend some time with your family.
6. Virtual socializing: Participating in virtual happy hours, getting to personally
learn more about your colleagues (Karen Triola, 2020), or even spending time with
people you like.
7. Find Work-Engagement: The other end of the burnout spectrum is being an
engaged employee. Work engagement is strongly related to motivational outcomes
(Bakker, Demerouti and Isabel Sanz-Vergel, 2014) . Hence, it is important to
consider whether your job is giving you what you are seeking.
8. Engage in self-care: To be proactive in your own holistic self-care and wellbeing.
This includes keeping yourself healthy not only physically, but also mentally and
emotionally. This includes physical exercise, meditation, healthy diet, proper
sleep, healthy emotional regulation, and practicing gratitude, to name a few
(Norton & Martin, 2020).
9. Career direction: We are satisfied with our work if it is in congruence with our
calling, which is our sense of self and the meaning of our life. It also reduces the
chances of experiencing burnout and helps with stress management better ( Kim,
et. al., 2017 ).
10. Letting go of Perfectionism: Managing your perfectionism would certainly
reduce your stress levels and thus, burnout. Your aim should not be to lower your
standard of work but to take some pressure off yourself. In addition to that,
prioritizing tasks and monitoring your progress will result in sturdy and healthy
success (Knight, 2019).
Do NOT let the work stress escalate into burnout.
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