For some, working from home may be ideal – working at your own pace, taking breaks when needed without the judging eyes of the boss. For others, a plethora of distractions or the lack of colleagues to bounce ideas off of may make working from home a challenge. Offices have moved into the family home and workers have retreated into corners of their flats to safeguard against the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, moving to remote working takes some adjustment and practice to get into a healthy work routine. If you fall into an unhealthy pattern, working longer hours with little breaks and nowhere in your home to ‘switch off’ it could lead to burnout.
The World Health Organisation officially defined burnout as thus: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Often, when working from home, the lines between home life and work life can quickly become blurred. You may find yourself answering calls after your normal working hours, checking emails well into the evening or working through lunch hours to wrap up a project. All of which are harmless when done once or twice, but in the wake of such a working life upheaval many may be trying to compensate for distractions, work for extra time to make up for furloughed colleagues or simply working for longer hours because its available, and thus after some time end up overworked, frustrated and burned out.
Psychotherapist Siobhán Murray, outlines some of the signs that can appear if a person is close to burnout in a BBC article. Arguing that often signals of burnout look similar to indicators of depression. We may feel overtired, continually stressed and anxious even after we have any cause to. For example, feeling stressed and anxious can be helpful when we are trying to complete a project, but if we are still feeling restless after the project has finished, we may be at risk of burnout. Further, feeling cynical, mentally distant and or emotionally numb like we do not have the capacity to engage with anything else, could be another sign. Often, feeling like our quality of work has slipped among these other aspects could indicate burnout.
Burnout developed from working from home could manifest differently to burnout from working outside of the home in at the usual place of work. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist said: “Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day, there’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by travelling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work. Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”
Fuller suggests that working from home could manifest as a ‘mental fuzziness’ but it can be different for everyone, so be aware of any changes to your wellbeing. To prevent burn out, ensure that you are taking regular breaks and stick to your working hours. If you are working on a project with an imminent deadline overtime can be helpful, but do not make a regular habit of it. If you did work into the night one day, perhaps give yourself an easier morning the next. We may also feel that whilst we are working from home, holiday days are rather pointless, but they can often be extremely beneficial to wellbeing levels and help prevent burnout. Holiday days even around the house can provide much needed rest and rehabilitation. If you can, set your office up in an area of the house away from your leisure or rest areas. Working in the bedroom or TV room can sometimes mentally block relaxation as your brain begins to associate that room with work.
If you do begin to feel burned out, it is all the more important to take breaks. Activities such as yoga and meditation are helpful to reset and unwind. Take some time for yourself focusing on activities that bring you joy.