Months spent working from home has pushed some of us to our limit. In the wake of a pandemic that has transformed work culture, experts say employees and managers need to become more aware of burnout risks. Smart technology may be able to help.
The shift to remote working at the beginning of the pandemic was positive for many employees, while others have at least got used to the new working conditions. But working from home has also had an effect on some people’s mental health.
Some even end up headed for burnout, with women affected more than men. “Studies show that it's often women who end up looking after the children in addition to their job when nurseries and schools are closed,” says Franziska Stiegler, head of the Mental Health in the Working World project at the New Quality of Work Initiative.
Single people are also at risk of getting burnout when working from home. According to Stiegler, social exchange is important for emotional and mental balance.
When you don’t see any point in work
Many of those working from home complain that the boundaries between work and private life become blurred. It becomes difficult to recharge one's batteries for things in your everyday life. Those affected feel empty inside.
“They’re exhausted all the time and have difficulty finding meaning or interest in their work,” says Professor Eric Quintane from the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in Berlin, Germany.
In addition, according to Quintane, those suffering from burnout often doubt their ability to do their work well. It's not uncommon for there to be a decline in performance.
Time to get professional help?
When you find yourself increasingly saying or thinking “I can't do this any more, I don’t want to do this”, it's a good idea to seek professional help. “The best thing you can do is take countermeasures as early as possible,” says Stiegler. “Contacting a counselling service and getting advice is also helpful,” she says.
Quintane points out that people suffering from burnout should not be stigmatised. “Burnout is not a sign that an employee is weaker, less resilient or underperforming than others.”
Before you reach the point of burnout, you can always try reminding yourself of tips for healthy remote working. For example, it’s important to have the right technical and ergonomic equipment. Or to create clear routines, such as taking regular breaks, finishing work on time and making sure you get enough exercise.
Regular contact with your manager
In addition, it’s important to have regular digital exchanges, both with the team and with the manager. Employees should be proactive in addressing any issues. “Ideally, managers should meet with their employees (virtually) at least once a week, ask if there are any issues while working from home and discuss possible solutions,” says Stiegler.
According to Quintane, one approach could be to find out whether the work is distributed appropriately among all team members. It can be helpful to evaluate the “digital traces” that employees working from home have left behind on a common product or project in terms of their frequency.
“This involves looking at email traffic, phone logs and records of meetings in digital platforms without looking at the content,” says Quintane. A study he initiated at the ESMT showed that this was a good way of identifying overworked employees.
Quintane and his team are currently working on an algorithm that explores what factors may be related to burnout in different organisations. “Our long-term goal is to develop an automated alert system that prevents burnout.” – dpa