Anyone who has ever worked in a stressful work environment has first-hand experience with work burnout. This burnout can take many forms: a decrease in productivity, a lack of interest, a general sluggishness when it comes to workplace responsibilities. Regardless of the industry you work in, burnout has the potential to come for any one of us, greatly affecting our mental health as well as our workplace performance.

Most crucially, work burnout is nothing to be ashamed of. It is as natural as the weather and with the right wellness, managerial support, and work-life balance systems in place, it can be preventable. As the world moves toward its second year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are facing a new type of burnout: remote work burnout.

Working remotely is a different ballgame than working in-office every day, and working from home during a global health crisis is a different universe entirely. However, with intentionality and open communication, everyone is capable of overcoming remote work burnout.

What is Remote Work Burnout?

Remote work burnout is when employees fall into a state of emotional or mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stressful professional experiences, and is signaled by feeling emotionally drained and not being able to meet the demands of your workplace. 

According to a July 2020 survey, 75% of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40% saying that they’ve experienced burnout specifically while working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stanford researchers recently found that employees are also experiencing “Zoom Fatigue,” and developed a quick tool to see if you or your team members might have it. Try to mitigate with meeting-free days or Slack standups.

How to Recognize Remote Work Burnout

The key to overcoming remote work burnout is early detection and putting systems in place to avoid falling into a state of burnout in the future. The best way to determine if you have remote work burnout is to look at your work-life situation holistically. Burnout is a combination of both internal and external symptoms, to overcome it requires both internal and external changes.

To determine if you have remote work burnout, here are a list of common symptoms:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Detachment from work or home life
  • Feeling drained before you begin your work day
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness or cynicism toward work responsibilities
  • Overall loss of motivation
  • Physical exhaustion or extreme joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Increased food, alcohol, or substance use
  • Being drawn to isolation and escapism
  • Impaired concentration and forgetfulness

Burnout can play a major role in mental health — know your resources and talk to a trusted friend or colleague if you need to make adjustments at work. Many companies offer employee assistance programs that can connect you with support and tools for your health and well being. 

How to Prevent Remote Work Burnout

If you believe that you are suffering from remote work burnout, there are a variety of things you can do to pull yourself up into a more healthy and productive state of being, and prevent falling into remote work burnout in the future. Create and hold firm boundaries in order to create a more happy, healthy, and sustainable work-life balance and prevent remote work burnout.

How to Really Create Work-Life Boundaries

Working remotely is known to intrinsically create a more flexible and steady work-life balance for employees across industries. But working from home during a global pandemic has the potential to blur the lines between work-life and home-life severely enough to erase them all together. To avoid this blurring of the lines, employees working remotely must develop clear boundaries for themselves so they do not fall into being “at work” at all times. To create sustainable work-life boundaries:

  • Create a workspace.

If possible, have a dedicated work space that you can physically enter and exit at the beginning and end of your work day. While having an entire home office in your house is not realistically attainable for everyone, it is still recommended that creating a physical boundary between being “at work” and “at home” is a key step toward avoiding remote work burnout. This boundary can look like putting your work materials into a designated drawer at the end of the day, sitting at a different end of the kitchen table to work than when you eat, or even taking a lap around your home before sitting down to work in the morning to signal to your brain that you are “going to work.”

  • Time off = turn off.

Turn off your email, work phone, or work notification after hours. Being available to your coworkers at all times is a fast track to burnout. Instead, communicate to your teammates and managers when you will be “off the clock” so they know when it is appropriate to contact you and when to expect you to be available.

  • 6:00 - 7:00 PM: Me time.

Formally schedule in personal time. When you work from home full time and your “office” is steps away from where you live it can be difficult to end your work day, especially during the busy time of year. To help yourself end your work day, schedule an after-work activity for yourself. This could be anything from going to a walk, cooking dinner, reading for pleasure, or any one of your go-to hobbies. By scheduling your leisure time as well as your work responsibilities you will be more inclined to stop working for the day and move on to your next activity, as opposed to elongating your work day unnecessarily.

  • Be up front about your schedule.

Have a conversation with your boss about working on a flexible schedule. If you are working from home while your roommate works down the hall or your kids log into their virtual classrooms at the table next to you, it can be difficult to maintain a typical 9-5 work day. Instead, have a discussion with your teammates and boss about transitioning to a flexible schedule that gives you more power over your workday and allows you to be “on the clock” during times that better fit your busy home-life schedule.

With the right boundaries in place, remote work burnout is preventable. If you feel as though you are in the throngs of burnout and are having trouble pulling yourself out of it, have a conversation with your remote teammates and manager about the best path forward.