• Integrative Doctor

Working from home? Take these simple steps to avoid burnout.

Even before the coronavirus imposed unprecedented changes on our lives, it was well known that workers who felt pressure to be “switched on” constantly were at higher risk of burnout – a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion generally brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.


While many workplaces have been focusing on maintaining productivity, for many workers, the sudden and unplanned switch to working from home has raised the risk of burnout. This risk can be reduced by taking some simple steps. The increased connectivity offered by mobile devices had blurred the lines between work time and personal time long before the virus appeared. Now that countless workers have shifted to working from home, it’s more important than ever to safeguard their wellbeing. Workers who suddenly find themselves working from home may feel like the days all run together. The daily and weekly rituals that help us compartmentalise our lives – the commute, Monday morning banter, weekend sports – have disappeared. Many workers feel guilty about being at home and compensate by working longer hours.

Prolonged periods of stress, combined with uncertainty and anxiety about the future can lead to burnout. The good news is, once this is understood there are actions we can take to reduce the risk and adapt to the new normal. Establish New Rituals If you suddenly find yourself working from home, replacing your old work-week rituals can help define the boundaries of work and personal life. By establishing start-of-day and end-of-day rituals, you are reinforcing to yourself when you are ‘at work’ or ‘at home’, even if they are both the same physical space. Different rituals will work for different people, so develop some that work for you. Start-of-day rituals might include replacing your morning commute with a walk around the neighbourhood, continuing to wake, shower and dress for work at your usual time, and preparing a to-do list for the day ahead. End-of day rituals can be as simple as closing all your browser tabs, shutting down your computer, or putting your phone into airplane mode for an hour or two of family time. The actions themselves are less important than the thought you put into them and the value they provide for you. Define Your Workspace If you have a home office, it is easier to define your workplace within the home, but for many people the workplace is now the kitchen table, making it harder to define a boundary between work and home. Regardless of the facilities available to you, the key is to define your workspace and make that distinction clear to other members of the household. Even if it just a specific chair at the table, defining the space helps you and others to know when you are working and when you are not. Set Goals and Celebrate Milestones One thing that can help workers avoid overwork and burnout is to see that they are being productive each day. It is much easier to switch off at the end of the working day if you feel you have made progress on your work. Starting with a to-do list and crossing out items as you complete them helps to provide an awareness of your productivity and reduce feelings of ‘work from home guilt’. Allow yourself a treat when reaching pre-set milestones. This could be anything from an afternoon snack to a walk with the dog or simply five minutes sitting in the garden – whatever motivates you! Switch off to Focus Working from home dishes up distractions that you don’t normally face at work. Children, pets, that one little repair job you’ve been putting off – they can all prevent you from focusing deeply on an important task. When you need to concentrate deeply, take some steps to reduce distractions. If you can’t close the office door as a signal to family members that you don’t wish to be disturbed, you could make a sign for the back of your chair. Talking to family about this will help too. Social media notifications are a major distraction. Switch them off or put your phone into airplane mode for the duration of the work session. Switching off email notifications is another way to reduce distraction. Stop Checking Email After Hours Many workers feel pressured into checking and responding to emails promptly, whether they arrive in working hours or not. One highly effective way to reduce stress and burnout is to stop checking your work email out of working hours. Make it clear to your colleagues that out of hours emails will be responded to the following working day. It might be helpful to talk to them about the reasons why. If you are tempted to send emails outside normal working hours, consider that you might be adding to someone else’s stress levels. Turning off push notifications for emails on your phone and using auto-reply to respond to out of hours emails can also help. Remember – You’re Only Human Take a break. Nobody can work productively all the time. We need time to ourselves to switch off, relax and regroup. The coronavirus pandemic is a major change to our entire society and it takes time to adapt. Make sure you take regular breaks throughout the day, and time off on weekends. Just because you work from home now, it doesn’t mean you are at work all the time. Establishing new habits will help you – and your workmates – to tell the difference.

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