The Rise of Hybrid Working and its Connection to Burnout
Hybrid working and working from home have become the norm for many workers worldwide after that global ‘thing’ that happened in 2020. While the new normal has its advantages, such as reduced commute time and increased flexibility, it has also led to some significant drawbacks for a number of people, particularly an increased risk of burnout. The blurring of physical and mental separation between work and personal life has made it difficult for employees to switch off.
According to a recent survey by Buffer, 42% of remote workers reported feeling burnt out, compared to just 17% of those who work in an office setting. The survey also found that remote workers are more likely to work beyond their regular working hours and skip lunch breaks. The reasons for this are clear: without the physical separation of an office, it becomes easier to slip into working longer hours, and without the social cues and interactions of a physical workplace, it can be easy to forget to take breaks.
Another study conducted by FlexJobs found that remote workers are more likely to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted. The study also revealed that remote workers are more likely to feel lonely, which can have a significant impact on their mental health and overall wellbeing.
The lack of water cooler interactions and short breaks with team mates can also contribute to burnout. These casual conversations and brief breaks are essential for diverting the mind and providing a change of pace, which helps employees refocus and recharge. Without these opportunities for interaction, remote workers can quickly become overwhelmed and burnt out. Human beings are by their very nature social creatures (even when introverted, just to a lesser degree). Gregarious interactions and unforeseen meetings can add a source of variety to an otherwise solitary existence. Stress and pressure are released when colleagues can let off steam together. It should not be a huge surprise given that solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments a prisoner can face – lack of contact with human beings is literally classed as torture.
The constant distractions of home life can also contribute to burnout. Children, pets, and household chores can all take away from focus and productivity, making it more difficult for remote workers to get their work done and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Prior to the pandemic working from home would have felt like a dream for many workers but the realities are very different. When work and home life are physically separate they do not compete – whereas working from home can lead to loved ones not recognising the boundaries of work time (either because they are too young or the perspective is skewed) or non-work tasks intruding even as an unavoidable, triggered thought.
The impact of hybrid working and working from home on burnout has been further exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Remote workers have been forced to work from home for an extended period, leading to feelings of isolation and fatigue. In some cases, this can lead to workers finishing their day and going straight to bed, only to wake the next day to start the process all over again. The symptoms of depression that manifest are focused further by isolation, leading home workers to enter a vicious circle. Hybrid workers suffer less from this, of course, due to having physical interactions with their place of work and colleagues – but the problem still exists, even if it is to a lesser degree. The lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life has also put additional strain on workers, making it more difficult for them to switch off from work. After all, with working away from home, the brain compartmentalises certain emotions and experiences into physical spaces, leaving the home as a safe/zen area – a retreat from the real world, so to speak. This is difficult – if not impossible – to achieve when the work environment is melded with the home safe space. One cannot be the other, and so invariably the home slowly becomes associated with work and all the requisite stresses that come along with it.
Further to all of these personal and environmental aspects, pressure from leadership and management may also be contributing to burnout: according to Microsoft, ‘productivity paranoia’ is having a hugely negative effect on employees who feel they are working hard – but are not trusted by leadership and management who can’t physically observe them in the way they could pre-pandemic. This is placing pressure not only on employees but on managers who feel they can’t gauge productivity in the way they could pre-pandemic. There are a number of strategies highlighted to mitigate the stress experienced both by workers and management, such as making expectations more transparent, and seeking feedback from workers on how they are feeling. That being said, the direct actions hybrid and work from home employees can take to avoid burnout are as follows:
- Set clear boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life is essential for avoiding burnout. This means setting regular working hours, taking breaks, and creating a designated workspace that is separate from your personal life.
- Take regular breaks: Regular breaks are essential for avoiding burnout. This can include taking a walk, reading a book, or simply getting up from your desk and stretching your legs.
- Stay connected with colleagues: Staying connected with colleagues is essential for avoiding burnout. This can include virtual water cooler chats, video calls, and regular team meetings.
- Prioritise self-care: Self-care is essential for avoiding burnout. This can include exercise, meditation, reading and hobbies that you enjoy.
- Seek support: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek support. This can include talking to a dedicated member of your team or reaching out to a friend or family member.
Working from home has become increasingly common in recent years, offering many advantages such as flexibility and reduced commuting time. These are undoubtedly beneficial – with positive knock on effects such as being able to see family members immediately after work, and being able to – for instance – be able to collect the kids from school and be more present in their lives. However, working from home can also lead to overwork and burnout if not managed properly. Overworking can result in physical and mental exhaustion, decreased productivity, and decreased job satisfaction. Feeling involved is a key aspect to being part of an organisation – this feeling is diminished greatly by not physically being present with colleagues at a central location. Therefore a visit once in a while can be very beneficial to mental health, even if the worker is classed as a fully remote colleague. It is also critical to establish clear boundaries between work and personal time, take regular breaks, and engage in self-care activities to prevent burnout. By avoiding overwork, you can maintain a healthy work-life balance and achieve greater long-term success and happiness.