Guest article from Fusion Occupational Health

The American Institute of Stress reports that 83% of US workers suffer from some kind of work-related stress.

As more people work from home during the Coronavirus pandemic, this is not only likely to increase but also has the potential to become overwhelming and cause workplace burnout.

Having already explored Mental Health Days in the workplace in a previous blog, we’ve asked Fusion Occupational Health to look at how you can recognize the signs of burnout and improve your mental health when working from home.

What is workplace burnout?

Workplace burnout is a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion due to work.

While it includes many of the symptoms of stress, burnout has some specific feelings that differentiate it. These include:

  • Tiredness and exhaustion
  • A lack of enthusiasm 
  • An increase in negativity
  • Decreased ability to perform your job

Burnout is a mental health issue that needs to be taken seriously.

A 2018 study of 7,500 US workers found that employees suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take sick days, show less confidence in their work performance, and are more than twice as likely to leave their job.

Like stress, burnout can be managed by identifying areas in your work that are causing stress.

However, it’s far better to prevent burnout in the first place.

How can you avoid becoming overworked and experiencing burnout?

There are a number of ways that you can reduce and manage your stress to improve your mental health and avoid experiencing burnout when working from home.

Here are a few tips.

Set up your own space

If you can, set up a specific area in your home for work.

Make sure it has a desk, comfortable chair and plenty of natural light.

Glassdoor has put together this handy guide to setting up your own home office.

Prioritize your day

Be clear what your most important jobs are for the day.

This 2012 paper cites communication as a key area in reducing work stress, so make your manager and colleagues aware of what you need to focus on.

By creating a daily task list, you can end the day positively, knowing that you’ve achieved something.

Don’t skip lunch

It’s just as important not to eat at your desk when you’re working from home as it is in the office.

Make sure that your lunch break is an actual break from work because getting away from your desk to have lunch has been shown to help employees de-stress.

Exercise regularly

Set time aside to stay active during work hours and break up your day with regular time away from a screen.

A 2015 study showed that regular yoga exercises resulted in lower work-related stress and improved sleep quality. 

Reduce screen time

With so many people using video conferencing apps, many people are feeling drained after working from home.

So much so, the term “Zoom fatigue” is being used to describe this feeling of exhaustion.

A professor from Pennsylvania describes the exhaustion she felt after teaching her class over Zoom, in a recent National Geographic article.

In the same article, an assistant professor of cyber-psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, says that research shows how much people struggle with video calls.

And neuroimaging research has shown that too much screen time can damage the brain.

Avoid back-to-back video calls and take regular breaks to reduce the time you spend in front of a screen.

Stick to your regular working hours

According to data from NordVPN, employee’s hours have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s important that you remain consistent and “leave work” when your working hours are over.

Get a good night’s sleep

Sticking to your regular working hours should mean that you won’t feel tempted to return to your computer in the evening.

National Sleep Foundation found that a lack of sleep was one of the biggest predictors of burnout.

So switch off notifications for your work emails after hours and make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

Give yourself some “me time”

Give your brain a rest from “work time”. This could be quality time with your family, cooking a meal or simply having some time alone.

A 2011 study found that meditation significantly reduced stress and depression in full-time workers.

Have regular check-ins

Don’t become distanced from your work colleagues while working from home.

A 2018 workplace survey found that having friends at work lowered stress in employees.

Simply calling someone on the phone can help you feel less isolated.

Speaking to the American Institute of Stress, therapist Rachel O’Neill had this to say about burnout in relation to working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“For many of us, most of our daily routine, our forms of self-care, and our general sense of safety and stability have been impacted. Present-focused awareness, maintaining emotional connections, having clear work-life boundaries, and increasing self-care strategies are key to moving forward without burning out.”