Burnout is a well-known consequence of highly pressurized modern society. One study has even reported that a huge 76% of employees periodically experience burnout. It’s a much-studied and examined topic, however, the new trend of remote work brings another layer to it that needs some careful attention.
One may think of remote work as a more relaxing and stress-free option. After all, it surely can’t be that bad working in your pajamas with your cat on your lap. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that remote work actually carries a dark side.
So, how is this burnout caused and what can be done to better support remote staff?
When retaining talent is vital for companies, we take a look at what causes this debilitating burnout and discuss 10 practical tips on how to best avoid it.
What is Employee Burnout?
While remote work does come with several benefits (such as increased flexibility, being able to work from anywhere, lower expenses, and time saved on a commute and workplace formalities) there are several challenges that are becoming increasingly linked to causing burnout.
But first, let’s take a look at what exactly burnout is. Widely regarded as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, burnout is caused by prolonged stress and pressure in the workplace. While everyone experiences stress (it’s an unavoidable occurrence) when the balance tips from manageable to consuming, the effects can be severe.
The symptoms of burnout can vary from increased fatigue and feelings of cynicism to decreased productivity and lost motivation. Also common is sleeping difficulties and actual physical discomfort.
So how does burnout occur in remote workers? The short answer is that a lack of boundaries, increased pressure, and a lack of team support and communication all play a contributory role. With no physical office to arrive at and leave, work frequently encroaches on personal time. No team around means a lack of support and isolation. The competitive remote work landscape also means a more desperate need for employees to perform and prove themselves.
Remote work can also frequently lead to unclear communication which leads to unclear expectations – further fuelling the risk of overworking to prevent not hitting the mark.
But there are solutions for supporting remote staff that can be very effective. Here are 10 practical ways for avoiding workplace burnout for your remote team:
1. Encourage Undisturbed Rest
While work is obviously the primary objective of the relationship with the employee, regular breaks and rest should be equally encouraged. Importantly too, these breaks should be respected, with mutual boundary-setting. In an age when we are connected digitally, communication can happen day or night, and work hours are no longer factored in. So too is the lack of disconnect – meaning employees will frequently receive notifications of correspondence simply by carrying their mobile phones – and not wanting to appear unhelpful or problematic, will often reply and then unwittingly get drawn into a discussion or task.
Therefore, is it extremely important that work questions and tasks should be saved for the established working times. Employees should be encouraged to take necessary breaks and therefore this time off should be respected too, with management leading by example.
2. Schedule Regular Check-ins
One of the common risks in the remote work environment is overworking due to the task and timelines not being managed correctly or communicated clearly.
This is often due to tasks and deadlines being assigned without deeper knowledge from management about how long this task actually requires. Importantly too, individual work requirements need to be factored in to ensure that the deadline and schedule of the task suits the capacity of the worker.
Clear communication is the answer here: by having regular check-ins, expectations from both sides can be managed. The current status can be discussed, as well as any potential delays.
A more realistic timeframe can therefore be created when the task is underway. In addition, should extra support need to be given to ensure the task is completed when required, this can also be discussed and organized. After all, a supported employee is most certainly a happier employee.
3. Nurture the Team Culture
It is important to note that burnout is not just about fatigue from overworking, it is also about becoming demoralized. Employees generally cope better with work and even stress when the morale is high – with a positive team culture being a well-established motivational factor in any workforce.
Part of establishing this necessary positive team culture is through fun and meaningful connect sessions with the team. For management, this would mean learning how to keep remote staff engaged.
Also true is that the more the team feels connected, the more supported they will feel by their colleagues, making communication and asking for support far easier. However, 65% of remote employees have reported that they have never partaken in a virtual team-building session, showing that more attention desperately needs to be given to this.
There are many team-building activities that be undertaken virtually, such as online quiz meetings, ice-breaker sessions, online games, and insightful personality tests. Cost-friendly and easy to organize, these activities can do wonders in generating a better team spirit.
4. Provide Extra Training
The success that access to training can have in boosting workplace morale should not be underestimated. Not only is it further equipping the employee to do their work, but it also boosts confidence and will also make the employee feel valued – after all the company values them enough to invest in them.
In addition, extra training is also motivating for the employee as it opens up new avenues of possibility for new roles, promotions, or salary increases.
5. Encourage Exercise and Healthy Living
Exercise and healthy hobbies, such as yoga or meditation, are proven and highly-effective ways to relieve stress, plus boost mood-elevating endorphins.
Whether it be by getting employees to talk about their recent fitness achievements or setting goals for the team, adding exercise and healthy living to the team culture can do wonders.
And exercise and healthy hobbies don’t just need to be encouraged through communication, but can also be encouraged by getting some company access to services, such as fitness classes.
Other creative ways of motivating healthier lifestyles include hosting ‘walking meetings’, signing up for virtual challenges, or the team joining a health-related webinar.
6. Give Access to Mental Health Support
Mental wellness is just as important as physical health, especially in the remote work environment where stress, loneliness, and feelings of isolation can be prevalent. A subject that has long been shunned, it is a fact that to build and sustain a high-functioning workforce, attention to mental health is paramount.
Mental health support can be offered in various forms, from one-to-one check-ins such as virtual coffee dates where employees can feel free to share, to offering access to apps that encourage meditation and mindfulness, or even, access to online counseling.
7. Respect and Make Provisions for Individual Situations
A large part of stress and frustration (which are prime contributors towards burnout) are actually caused by having to adapt to a system that does not factor in or pays attention to personal circumstances. For example, these circumstances can range from being a single parent, or having an illness, to needing a flexible work pattern for whatever reason.
To keep remote staff happy and taken care of, these personal circumstances must be taken into account. A work policy that can accommodate these situations should be formed and clear expectations for communication, availability and productivity for remote employees on flexible schedules should be established. The clearer the communication and understanding of personal situations, the less room there is for frustration to grow on either side.
8. Support Employees With Necessary Technology
An important part of keeping stress low is actually concerning the streamlining of workflows. But how does a company assist in streamlining its remote employee’s workflows? The answer lies again in providing access – in this case, to apps and software.
There are many apps that are very beneficial for remote teams to simplify tasks and boost productivity. Important too is software which can also assist the employee in performing their job function effectively.
The importance of virtual communication and collaboration tools also can’t be underestimated. In a remote work environment, giving workers access to platforms that will promote collaboration will go a long way in making them feel supported and part of a team. Such tools include video conferencing, instant messaging platforms, and project management software.
9. Don’t Keep Your Appreciation Hidden
Humans thrive on praise and there is nothing quite as morale-boosting for a remote worker as hearing one is doing a good job. For any manager looking to keep a team motivated, regularly finding small (or large) bits of recognition will certainly achieve this. Rewards can be verbal, or if the company chooses to, can be bonuses, additional time-off, or other benefits.
Appreciation can also be shown in other ways too: regular check-ins will show the remote worker that they are valued, while celebrating accomplishments, such as birthdays, work anniversaries, or professional development milestones are also signs of recognition.
10. Ensure Workloads are Appropriate
Continuously being overworked will certainly contribute strongly to burnout, and therefore, to safeguard against burnout, assigning workloads that are appropriate is an essential step.
The best way to establish a workload that won’t leave a remote worker burning the midnight oil is to set clear expectations and boundaries. This workload should also be monitored with regular check-ins, to ensure that the remote worker is making good progress and is not overwhelmed. Regular communication in this regard is key, as it also means that any issues or concerns regarding workloads are addressed in a timely manner.
Further to this, assessing remote employees’ workloads regularly and making adjustments as needed will also ensure that they do not become overloaded.
Investing in the Future of Your Company
In conclusion, while the concept of employee burnout is nothing new, burnout in the remote setting certainly requires a fresh approach. On a positive note, however, burnout can actually be avoided – all it takes is putting the right procedures in place and giving them ongoing care and attention.
When a happy, productive remote team is the goal, burnout is a clear indication that all is not well within the company approaches – and this requires urgent attention.
However, so much can be solved when providing your remote team with the right support. Communication, resources, tools, and flexibility do wonders in ensuring that remote workers have the resources they need to be productive and successful in their work.
It all starts with developing an understanding of the potential pitfalls a remote team can face and establishing ongoing support mechanisms to ensure that your team stays motivated and supported, from their physical well-being to team collaboration and support.
This investment in the overall well-being of your remote team will pay dividends, as building and retaining a healthy, happy team is an essential factor in building a successful future for your company.