Although they are lucky enough to still have jobs, many employees working remotely in the age of COVID-19 are facing anxieties.
“Working from home can alleviate some stresses, such as less commuting time and fewer expenses for commuting, clothes, and even childcare, but employees are trying to juggle too many roles at once,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “More and more workers are burning out the longer the pandemic goes on. They are trying to remain productive employees while also acting as caregivers and their children’s teachers at the same time.”
“And, of course, they are also worried about keeping themselves and their loved ones healthy while facing the threat of a potentially deadly virus,” he added.
Not only has the physical workspace changed drastically for stay-at-home workers, the typical workday has as well. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported the length of the average workday has increased 48.5 minutes from pre-pandemic levels. This is according to a study of 3.1 million people at more than 21,000 companies in 16 cities in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
The study, which looked at an eight-week period before COVID-19 and then again during the pandemic, also reported an increase in the number of emails sent each day (1.4 more per day), the number of meetings per person (+12.9%), and the number of attendees per meeting (+13.5%). The average length of meetings, however, has actually decreased (-20.1%).
Managers are stressed from having to turn a profit while leading teams from afar. Despite being distanced, they still need to create and execute new initiatives, deal with personnel issues, and create new products during an economic downturn.
“People are not taking time to recharge – many are forgoing vacations. Many fear the next round of layoffs may include them. People may be questioning their value within the organization. Employers of all sizes have cut jobs and salaries because of revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Challenger. “The productivity of companies and the health of employees are threatened.”
Global employment website Monster.com recently reported that 69% of workers experienced burnout as a result of working from home in July, which is a 20-point increase since May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages workers to recognize that feelings of being overwhelmed, unmotivated, or overly tired can mean they are burned out. To gain more control over their lives, the CDC recommends that employees talk openly with managers about how they are feeling, develop a consistent daily routine when possible, take regular breaks, spend time outdoors, and set a regular time to end the workday and enjoy favorite activities during non-work hours.
The CDC also recommends employees be informed about how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, but to take a break from constant news or social media to avoid getting upset or mentally exhausted from pandemic information overload. People should interact with others, avoid misusing alcohol or drugs, and seek help if they are struggling to cope.
Some steps employers can take to help combat worker burnout include the following:
- Postpone setting performance goals until COVID-19 is more under control so expectations are reasonable.
- Keep everyone updated on the company’s plans for reopening as well as all COVID-19 protocols to keep employees safe and healthy.
- Schedule group meetings regularly to give remote workers the opportunity to feel like part of a team.
- Check in often with employees one-on-one for work updates and to make sure workers have the necessary materials and equipment needed to perform their jobs. Also, assess employees’ well-being and offer the opportunity to privately answer any questions or discuss concerns they may have.
- Encourage employees to take breaks during the day and use vacation days/schedule time off periodically to recharge.
- Reassess workloads and be sure responsibilities are evenly distributed among workers.
- Inform employees about the financial status of the enterprise. If pay must be reduced, offer financial counseling. If jobs must be eliminated, provide outplacement services and networking opportunities.
“Business leaders should be transparent about the challenges the company is facing,” said Challenger. “They can improve morale by ensuring each and every employee is told that their contributions to the enterprise are important and recognized.”