How to Prevent Burnout in Remote Workers

Increasing numbers of people are working from home, which has proven advantageous for both employers and workers. Companies were pleased to be able to seamlessly continue their business while the pandemic was in full force without losing momentum or revenue. Employees were able to continue working without losing their jobs. 

PrideStaff recently conducted an employee survey about remote work. Among our findings were that 84% of workers would prefer to work either full time or some of the time remotely. As a national staffing firm, PrideStaff has workers all over the country, meaning we were able to get a broad cross-section of individual opinions. But working from home does not mean they are immune from burnout. On the contrary, rates of burnout were the same or even higher than for people working on-site. 

Show Empathy to Your Team 

One factor that made working from home different this time is that people were thrown into remote work without warning. Previously, people who worked remotely chose to work from home. They would typically have a dedicated office. In fact, some employers made a private home office with a door a requirement of being permitted to work from home.  

These remote workers had proper equipment and an ergonomic setup. Best of all, they could take a laptop with them to a coffee shop if they needed a change of scenery. Some did quite the opposite of working from home, considering themselves digital nomads, able to work anywhere in the world with Wi-Fi. That’s a far cry from 2020, where people were on lockdown and in some cases forbidden to leave their homes. Staring at the same four walls 24/7/365 is a recipe for employee burnout.  

These accidental remote workers had little warning and were often ill-equipped to work from home. Employees could be in a studio apartment or sharing space (and Wi-Fi) with roommates or homeschooling children. It was an all-around stressful experience for many. 

According to a recent study, the most common causes of burnout in remote workers include: 

  • Excessive workload  
  • Perceived lack of control  
  • Not seeing efforts rewarded or recognized  
  • Lack of support from employers  
  • Lack of fairness  
  • Mismatched values and skills 

Check on Your Employees 

One problem is that remote employee burnout is difficult for managers to observe. If workers are in the office, chances are you’d notice if someone appeared frazzled or depressed or otherwise not themselves. That’s not the case in many remote work situations. Some remote work may involve ongoing engagement where workers speak to their manager or coworkers daily. In other scenarios, they might not talk to anybody day-to-day, just quietly doing their work with little to no engagement. Managers are unlikely to notice burnout in work from home employees until it becomes evident that they are underperforming. Eventually, you may notice when they aren’t getting work completed or not turning in quality work, or are late or absent for a scheduled meeting. It’s harder to address burnout when it reaches these advanced stages. It’s much better to catch it early or, better yet, put burnout prevention strategies into place. 

Offer More Flexibility  

Find out if employees need accommodations to keep up with family or other obligations. Some companies require employees to log into their computers at specific hours. Is it necessary, or do you just want to make sure you have a controlled, predictable situation? If you need people available to cover the phones for customers, it makes sense that you need to know that your team members are logged in.  

Even then, you can offer some flexibility. For example, if you allow your remote employees the opportunity to work 7-3, 8-4, or 9-5, you have even greater coverage, and your employee would have control over their schedule. One of the most significant factors in predicting remote employee burnout is lack of control or perceived lack of control. If employees have tasks to complete, but it doesn’t matter when it gets done within a day or week, the flexibility to get it done on their own schedule can make all the difference. Flexibility can even improve the quality of employee work. Most people are either night owls or early birds. When people can work according to their own rhythms, it can reduce burnout and enjoy increase greater job satisfaction. 

Provide Proper Equipment  

Conduct a technology assessment with your remote employees. Are they using their own equipment, or is it company-provided? It was probably fine to allow them to use their technology for temporary or emergency use, but if a position will be remote for an extended period of time, it makes sense to provide company equipment. It will be standardized, so you know what people are working on, and you can be more confident that it’s secure. Employee equipment means you must trust that they have antivirus or other required security. Also, employees may have no computer of their own, or it could be outdated and adequate for only occasional use. Give employees tips to optimize, provide them with equipment that meets company standards, or offer a stipend to be used for upgrading their equipment.  

Keep Workloads Manageable 

When you’re not interacting with employees in person on a day-to-day basis, you can always tell when they’re overwhelmed by their workload. Be realistic about what can be accomplished and how many hours remote employees are putting in. Don’t hesitate to hire if need be to cover the workload. Sometimes temporary workers can fill the gap so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. For example, temporary workers can take on simpler work so regular employees can focus on top priorities. In other cases, temporary or contract workers can be brought in for special projects or if a specific skill set is needed that your current staff does not possess. Not only does this remove burdens from your full-time team, but it can save you in overtime, reduce the number of sick days and prevent burnout, all without taking the risk of hiring full-time staff if you’re not sure if there is a place for them in the long term.  

Encourage Some Structure 

For many remote workers, the ability to work when it’s most convenient is one of the most significant advantages of this option. The danger is when work leaks into personal life too much. If they are expected to work an 8-hour day, they should plan an 8-hour day. If your company has specific required work hours, that’s fine, but if employees can establish their preferred hours, they should set up parameters. Whether they choose to work from seven to three or ten to six, they should shut down and shift into home mode. That could mean shutting the office door or shutting their laptop.  

One effective end-of-day practice is to take a few moments to write down what you accomplished that day and your to-do list for the next day. Whenever possible, it’s helpful to get work-related items out of sight when the workday is done. Some employees enjoy a quick walk or other activity to mark the end of the day. Don’t let employees fall into the always available trap. It’s important that they schedule time to be out of the office or away from their desk. Breaks can help employees to recharge, boost creativity, improve problem-solving and reduce burnout. Managers should encourage all employees to take time off. It can be challenging to see employees struggle when working from home, so it’s important to remind people to examine their own mental health. 

Maintain Open Channels of Communication 

When employees were asked what made remote work successful, many of them cited communication with their managers. While they also said they don’t like being micromanaged, they did enjoy regular one-on-ones where they could bring up difficulties, ask for advice, or receive feedback. It’s a great way to keep your team on track and observe how they are doing professionally and emotionally. A lot of bonding on-site takes place in informal conversations, whether the discussion is “that chart looks great,” “congratulations on your new dog,” or “how about that local sports team?” When you schedule regular meetings to check in, it becomes an ongoing conversation, not an event that makes the employee nervous.  

Remind Employees to Take Time Off 

With the flexibility of working from home, it’s easy for employees to forget about taking PTO. Employees with a mild illness might power through it while working at home when they would have taken a sick day to prevent their coworkers from getting sick. It might seem great at first that they don’t need to miss a day of work, but without rest, the employee may underperform for days rather than being off for one. With the pandemic, a lot of vacation time went unused because most people could not travel. They can still use a break, however, to refresh themselves and improve performance. Gentle reminders can encourage employees to take a few three-day weekends to enjoy family time or a week to work on projects around the house.   

PrideStaff is here to help. 

Burnout can be a serious problem for your team, but putting the correct systems in place and making sure you have the right people on board can make all the difference. Our national staffing firm can help ensure you always have the talent you need to keep your business staffed, flexible, and prepared for what’s next. How can we help? Contact your local PrideStaff office today to start a conversation.