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Burnout is real — even when working from home

Click to play video 'How to avoid work-from-home burnout' How to avoid work-from-home burnout
Even though you may not be working physically at an office, work-from-home burnout can still happen and may be even more likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts – Apr 23, 2020

Long days at the office along with constant work-related emails after hours can all contribute to workplace burnout.

But even without a physical office to go to, burnout can happen working from home, and may be even more likely now due to the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic, says Rahaf Harfoush, a Canadian workplace expert and author of Hustle & Float, which examines the burdens of modern-day work culture. 

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Feeling exhausted, unmotivated, anxious and unable to focus on work due to chronic stress created by a job are all symptoms of workplace burnout, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

READ MORE: Working from home because of coronavirus? Here’s how to stay productive

Last year, the WHO identified burnout as a serious health concern that can cause “increased mental distance from one’s job” and “reduced professional efficacy,” it said in a press release.

How businesses can adapt to prevent employee burnout

As many Canadians have had to quickly transition to a work-from-home environment and drastically alter their routines, new workplace concerns have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes could all be factors contributing to work-from-home burnout, said Harfoush.

“These aren’t normal times. You might have someone working from home without a home office, with their spouse, their kids or their roommates around,” she said. “This isn’t business as usual. There’s a lot of external stressors and we can’t discount the psychological and emotional impact of that.”

Click to play video 'Working from home tips with Dr. Tracey Wilen' Working from home tips with Dr. Tracey Wilen
Working from home tips with Dr. Tracey Wilen – Apr 15, 2020

Employees have had to navigate their roles within their families while having to balance workplace responsibilities. As workers continue to be at home for the foreseeable future, accommodations should be made and businesses need to be as agile as possible during this time, explained Harfoush.

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Do not expect employees to be as productive, she said. 

“Revisit goals and accomplishments this quarter and see if they are still attainable,” she said. “There’s been a lot of anxiety, fear, personal situations and economic turbulence. The idea that [employees] will be unaffected by that just because they are home is just crazy.” 

Another mistake offices are making that could create more stress and pressure on workers is transferring an in-office schedule to platforms like Zoom without making any alterations, she said. 

A daily all-hands meeting with dozens of people can’t just be transferred to video chat, as that would be infuriating and likely unproductive, she added.

“You can’t just digitize everything you used to do,” she said.

Instead, limit a call’s length and see if meetings can be broken down into smaller groups, she said. 

“This is an opportunity to design and experiment and ultimately the end goal should be to create a flexible system,” she said. 

How to keep yourself from burning out at home

Beyond your workplace being more accommodating to the needs of employees, there are steps you can take at home to minimize the likelihood of feeling burnt out.

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Signs of workplace burnout can include persistent fatigue, sleeping too little or too much, taking longer to complete tasks or making more mistakes, said Harfoush. 

READ MORE: Working from home? Household expenses may be deductible, say tax experts

To prevent this, start by being honest with your co-workers and managers about your ability to complete your work at this time, she said.

“Do you have to put down your kid for a nap at the same time as a meeting? Be upfront about the reality of the situation,” she said. “Technology makes it easier than ever to take your work home. This being such a stressful environment, set very clear boundaries with your team.”

The antidote to workplace burnout is an ability to unplug from a job and recharge — which can easier to do when you physically leave an office, said Joti Samra, a Vancouver-based psychologist and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, a consulting firm that aids businesses in supporting employee mental health.

Coming home, cooking, playing with our kids, watching TV or connecting with friends is how many of us relax after a workday, allowing us to be mentally fresh next time we go to the office, she said.

Click to play video 'The Future of Work: Remote working and working from Home' The Future of Work: Remote working and working from Home
The Future of Work: Remote working and working from Home – Apr 13, 2020

That’s changed now that many of us are working from home, she said.

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“Those lines are fully blurred,” she said. “So my work is interfering with my personal life because right now we don’t have the ability to unplug… and all of a sudden, the work hours are becoming longer.”

Along with setting boundaries with your work hours, create a schedule for yourself to signal your brain when work is over, she said.

Ensure you have differentiated between a workspace and a space for you to relax in your home. If you don’t have an office, retain a corner or use a portion of a kitchen table only for work — do not taint other spaces by working all over the house, she said.

“If you have little kids, it’s a little bit more of a challenge,” she said. “We can still teach them visual cues… You can leave a little clock or a timer that you put on your door that lets them know ‘I’m unavailable right now.’” 

READ MORE: Employer still not letting you work from home? How to navigate coronavirus office upheaval

Take control of what you can based on your living situation and know that many, including your co-workers, are likely dealing with the same issues, she said.

Above all, cut yourself some slack during this time and don’t punish yourself if your performance has slipped, said Harfoush. There needs to be time for you to take care of your body and to get enough sleep and have time to speak to friends and family, she said.

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“We’ve been conditioned to treat our productivity as an indication of our success and our worthiness as a person,” said Harfoush. 

“Being locked down is just amplifying these feelings… The root cause of this problem comes from overwork culture. Those expectations were unreasonable then and are unreasonable now.” 

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.