Are you one of the millions around the globe that has made a sudden transition to remote work? Your employers are worried about you. The broader discourse has shifted significantly from maintaining productivity levels to managing your work-life balance. This is because their concern now lies in a longer-term risk — employee burnout.
The lines between work and non-work are blurring. Because the shift to remote working came about so suddenly, employees are forced into this situation without adequate preparation, much less a choice. They are not equipped to maintain healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives. The onus is on employees to show their devotion to the role in the face of the looming recession. Thus, they may feel they have to work all the time; little sense of time off will remain. I’m sure this is the longest many of you have gone without taking a personal day off. And this work arrangement is likely to stay for several more months.
How can employees continue to keep their work and non-work life compartmentalized? Leaving your work at the door no longer works, because you are not going out any door now. There is no signifier or physical boundary for work and everything else. Here are some recommendations to keep you from burning out.
Physical and Social Boundaries
Blake Ashforth from Arizona State University describes a demarcation of transition from work to non-work roles via “boundary-crossing activities.” These include day-to-day behavior such as dressing for work or commuting, which are physical indicators of your transition from home to work. When working remotely, you need to maintain these boundaries. This is because these activities are significant for informing your mind that you are in a different mode, and it gears you up for the day ahead differently. Think of how your mindset waking up on a Sunday compared to a Tuesday. Without these boundaries, every day will start feeling like Tuesday, and your mind will never switch off for that rest. Try putting on your casual Friday wear before going into your home office. To replace the morning commute, you can take a short walk to a nearby part, or even just around your apartment.
Maintaining temporal boundaries is critical for preventing burnout. This is especially relevant nowadays with you having to juggle with integrating childcare or other familial responsibilities during regular work hours. Even without these obligations, our mobile devices make sure that we keep work by our side 24/7. With this in mind, employers need to be conscious that 9-to-5 might not be ideal for everyone. Be respectful that people function optimally at different times. If you have the blessings from your employer for a flexible work schedule, make sure to take advantage. You can add “out-of-office” replies during certain time pockets to decrease response expectations for yourself. Of course, creating these temporal boundaries depends on your ability to coordinate the time with your coworkers. Leaders should aid in structuring and managing the pace of work. Have the occasional check-in virtual meeting, or implement a communication software that keeps everyone aligned with their coworker’s day and schedule.
Focus on What’s Important
How compelled do you feel to appear productive when working from home? This could lead you to work on tasks that are more immediately visible as compared to essential tasks that take longer to come to fruition. The lack of visibility for project progress is counterproductive. Instead of hustling for small wins, employees should pay more attention to prioritizing important work. This is because you are only productive for an average of three hours daily, and that’s only if the time is not disrupted, and you are purely focused on what’s at hand. This was difficult even before COVID-19, much less now with children and familial obligations. To maintain this output, employees have to be “on” all the time, which leads to a higher risk of burnout. Instead, avoid squeezing in work whenever you have a few minutes to spare — on the weekend, in the middle of a Netflix show. These are your non-work time and should remain as such.
These are just a few recommendations to help you avoid burnout while working from home. For employers, you would do better if you give employees the flexibility to experiment with their circumstances, to find out what works best for them in these different times.