Remote work definitely has its benefits, but it can blur the line between work and home. Research also shows that remote workers tend to work longer hours and experience loneliness more than their in-office colleagues. All of this makes remote work burnout a concern to watch out for.
Remote and hybrid work is now becoming the future of work as people learn how to succeed working from home. Burnout is a risk in any role, remote or otherwise. According to Deloitte, 77% of workers have experienced burnout in their current job. It is serious enough for The World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize it as an occupational phenomenon.
Learning how to beat remote work burnout could be a key skill to building a career. Let’s find out how and why burnout happens, the warning signs, and what to do to reduce the odds. We’ll also discuss how to reset if you’re currently experiencing burnout.
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Why do remote workers experience burnout
Some causes of burnout are work-related, and some are not. Some you have direct control over, and some you may have little control over. But identifying what may be the root of the problem is the first step to solving it.
Work-related causes of burnout
- Excessive workload: Hustle culture may glorify overwork, but we’re not our jobs or businesses. Burn the candle at both ends long enough, and you’ll sure extinguish your inner fire. What’s more, If you work longer than 55 hours a week regularly, you’re putting yourself at a high risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the latest data shared by the International Labour Organization (ILO), overwork killed 745,000 people in just one year.
- Work vs. values mismatch: If the work you do conflicts with your values and ethics, you won’t be happy at work and it can exhaust you as time goes by. Fortunately, more people are becoming reflective about how they choose their work.
- Micromanagement: Most people have experienced a micromanaging boss at some point and know the pain firsthand. Autonomy may be the biggest contributor to our happiness in life, not just work. Having a micromanager boss or client will put you on the path to dissatisfaction and, ultimately, burnout. This underscores the importance of exploring remote work management strategies by business owners.
- Toxic colleagues, bosses, and clients: According to MIT Sloan, toxic work culture was the number one reason driving the Great Resignation. Money and prestige just can’t make up for putting up with terrible people.
- Isolation as a remote worker: A survey in the UK revealed that 25% of respondents thought remote work made them more lonely. A report by Microsoft found that while remote work can increase job satisfaction, it can also leave you feeling socially isolated. It is not easy to connect with colleagues and network when you’re remote. You can, of course, use virtual methods. But even too many Zoom calls can lead to a lack of connection and zoning out.
Lifestyle-related causes of burnout
- Lack of social support: Even when your professional life is not going great, having social support from friends and family can protect you from burning out. Not having positive social connections will drive you headlong into exhaustion.
- Poor self-care: Self-care means different things to different people. But as a general rule, not getting enough sleep, nutritious food, and exercise will catch up with you. It affects not only your energy levels but brings in many other long-term health concerns.
- Too many responsibilities: Many remote working marketers are juggling a lot of other responsibilities together with their work. This includes family, pets, and interests outside work. As much as you may love them, too many things wear down the best of us at some point.
5 stages of remote work burnout
Psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger was the first scientist to discover and study burnout. He first presented his ideas in 1974 as a 12-phase model. Freudenberger defined burnout as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources”.
Other scientists later developed other models of burnout. One of them, the 5-phase model, explains how burnout creeps in.
- Honeymoon phase: Everything is going great. You’re happy with your work. The energy levels are high, and it’s good vibes all around. Of course, all work has some stress. If you develop healthy coping mechanisms, you could technically stay in this stage forever. But very few people do.
- Balancing Act phase: Things start to change. You manage work stress, but some days are not so great. Job satisfaction level goes down. A general sense of tiredness, often accompanied by muscle fatigue, takes over. You tend to forget stuff at work and get slower at work. You try to escape stress with alcohol, smoking, food, and such. Going to sleep becomes tough.
- Chronic Symptoms phase: The symptoms in phase 2 get worse. You can develop chronic exhaustion and illness due to stress. You can become angry or depressed all the time due to burnout at this stage.
- Crisis phase: You obsess about problems at work, and the physical health issues worsen. You become filled with self-doubt and pessimism. People can engage in different activities as a form of escapism at this phase.
- Enmeshment phase: The symptoms of burnout are so deeply enmeshed in your life at this stage. You’re likely to be labeled or diagnosed with some other significant physical or emotional issue at this point, rather than burnout.
While the model is terrifying, it is possible to beat back burnout with the correct coping mechanisms.
Warning signs of remote work burnout
Psychologists divide the symptoms of burnout into 3 categories - physical, emotional, and behavioral. It is possible to detect burnout early on if you pay attention to these symptoms creeping in.
Physical signs of burnout
- You feel tired all the time
- You get sick easily
- You get frequent muscle pains, backaches, headaches, and such
- Your appetite or sleep patterns are different from usual
Emotional signs of burnout
- You have a persistent sense of failure and chronic self-doubt
- Your motivation levels are dropping
- You feel irritable, cynical, and bitter
- You feel lonely
Behavioural signs of burnout
- You struggle to complete work on time
- You lose track of tasks and time
- You procrastinate more
- You isolate yourself from others
- You’re drinking, smoking, or eating junk food way more than usual
What to do if you spot signs of burnout
If you keep seeing multiple signs of burnout regularly, it’s time to do something. Once you reach the point of burnout, your performance will suffer. And not all bosses and clients will understand.
Organizational psychologist Gena Cox explained what remote-working marketers could do if they think they’re on the verge of burning out.
“Determine what factors are most contributing to the stress. Figure out what kind of self-care you need to practice that you may not be doing now (exercise, food intake, social support, etc.) Identify which of those items could possibly be improved (by you, by others who are making demands on you (including family and friends), or by your managers/clients.
Start with those that can be fixed in the personal situation (such as asking family for more help or asking others to do things you currently do for them). Determine what time of day you’re most productive and see if you can shift your work to that period.”
How to reset if you’re already burnt out
Contrary to popular wisdom, going on vacations does not cure burnout. It is your body and mind saying you can’t go on like this, so some changes are due.
- Take a hard look at your life
Identify what is causing your burnout and fix the root of the problem. For work matters, this may mean taking a different job, taking on fewer clients, firing toxic clients, hiring help, or delegating.
Outside work, this could mean taking better care of your health, quality time with your loved ones, or asking for help from friends and family.
- Get professional help
Working with a qualified mental health professional can help you work through an episode of burnout. Psychologists and therapists can provide much-needed mental health care and advice during these challenging periods.
- Take extended time away from work if you can
Not everyone can do this as money and responsibilities can get in the way. But taking an extended break from work can help you return refreshed and rearing to go. Elise Dopson, the co-founder of Peak Freelance, spoke about what it is like to take time off to recover from a burnout episode.
“Sitting at your computer screen for 8+ hours a day seems normal when you're in the zone. But when you take an extended time away from it, you realize how much of life you're missing out on.
For me, that included taking my nieces on fun day trips, watching trashy TV, reading non-business books just for fun, going for midday lunches with my mom, walking my dog, and going to bingo with my friends (honestly, the highlight of my entire time off).”
Set yourself up for healthy remote working
Burnout is no fun, but most of us will face the risk of it at some point in our careers. But once we learn what causes it and what to do when the warning signs appear, it is a lot easier to tackle.
Even if burnout is affecting your happiness and productivity right now, it is possible to recover. Take action today to set yourself up for healthy remote working and enter the no-burnout zone.