Remote Work Burnout

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Dec 19, 2022
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Employers who have offered both remote and in-person models of working aren’t strangers to the fact that employees love being given the option to work from home. Freedom from long commutes saves employees a good measure of time, money and stress.

The ability to blend work with other home-centered tasks, such as doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen or starting up the slow cooker, has been a welcome change of pace for many. “Work from home” has become a phenomenon and it seems everyone wants in. But is the phenomenon as good as it seems? 

The statistics are in on remote and hybrid work post-pandemic and they’ve allowed us to finally paint a clearer picture of how employees really feel. While remote work isn’t more likely, per se, to cause burnout in an employee, it comes with a host of considerations, concerns and particularities that managers should be aware of. 

The Employee Burnout Series for Employers

Before reading this post, be sure to check out the first three expert blog posts in this four-part employee burnout series: 

1.  Employee Burnout 101 – An Introduction for Employers >>

2.  Watch Out For These Employee Burnout Signs >> 

3.  Employee Burnout: Strategies for Prevention >> 

Employee Burnout 101

Are Remote Workers More Likely to Experience Burnout? 

October 2020 Gallup polls showed that “fully remote workers” were “now [at that time] experiencing more burnout than on-site workers.” The good news is, in 2022, the numbers have evened between remote, hybrid and in-person employees as we’ve begun to understand what does and doesn’t work when it comes to work models and mental health. 

However, in February of 2022, Gallup randomly sampled 15,000 United States employees and found that fewer than one-in-four felt their employer cared about their well-being. This is the worst pulse on employer well-being that Gallup has taken in nearly a decade. 

This statistic should catch the eye of managers whose employees are hybrid or remote. Efforts focused on well-being have never been higher, but perception is at a record low.

The number of respondents who believed their employer did care about their well-being reached almost 50% before the pandemic, largely in response to employer efforts to do more to show that work-life balance mattered. The number began to plummet down to less than a quarter after 2020. So what changed? 

RELATED: 3 Ways to Keep Remote Workers Accountable >>

If the efforts of employers to prioritize wellness haven’t lessened (and it doesn’t appear that they have), the surge in negativity must come from the remote work phenomenon. But there are many nuances to this statement. Apparently, the disconnect isn’t coming from the fact that employees are allowed to work from home.

Rather, according to a 2022 McKinsey study on burnout in remote and hybrid workers, anxiety is caused by “a lack of clear vision about work in the post-pandemic world,” “a lack of a hybrid work plan,” and “leaders who have yet to get specific about the future of hybrid work.” 

So, while the data shows that remote work proved a positive correlation with burnout in the early aughts of the pandemic, it doesn’t mean that remote work is to blame for negativity, poor performance and cynicism. Employers have a huge degree of control over preventing burnout in their remote and hybrid workers. The key is in understanding where burnout comes from in remote employees, and how to address it. 

employee burnout causes and signs

How to Identify Burnout in Remote Employees 

Once an employee starts to feel burned out, resentment can start to build toward their role and their company. Clichés aside, the best defense for preventing burnout is a good offense. Here are some key signs of burnout in remote employees to help you catch the problem before it escalates. 

1. Whether remote, hybrid or in-person, your employees have a lack of flexibility in how they work

Gallup's February 2022 study indicates that engagement metrics are actually the highest and burnout lowest in employees that are remote or hybrid. Conversely, engagement is at its lowest and burnout at its highest for employees that could do their work remotely or in a hybrid manner, but aren’t offered the option.

Combined with the findings from the 2022 McKinsey study, the pieces start to come together. Anxiety and burnout are caused by not having the option to work in a way that suits the employee and not having the structural support to do so in a way that makes sense. 

The data confirms this: according to a joint post-pandemic study by Mental Health America and FlexJobs, “flexibility in their workday” topped the charts as the best way a workplace could offer support, with 56% of respondents indicating it was the number one thing they wanted by way of support from their companies. It even ranked higher than encouraging time off and offering mental health days. 

2. They’re working more than the standard (likely 8-hour) day

According to a study published in Forbes that surveyed 2,000 workers in the wake of the pandemic, 67% of remote employees “feel pressured to be available at all hours of the day.” Sixty-five percent claim they have been working more hours than ever before. 

Remote work blends the line between the office and an employee’s home life. This can offer fantastic benefits to those who are going about the balance the right way (for example, by throwing in a load of laundry between meetings and foregoing the stress of a hectic commute), but it can be determinantal to others.

The fact that an employee is able to work from home has the potential to make them feel that if a problem arises, even outside of working hours, they should handle it—then and there. If you notice that an employee is responding to emails at all hours, logged on at strange times, and seems to never truly shut off, you could have a red flag of future burnout ahead. 

RELATED: Best Practices for Terminating a Remote Employee >>

3. Performance is down or inconsistent

You know you’ve got great employees, or at least employees with great potential—or you wouldn’t have hired them. When a remote employee with high potential has inconsistent or poor results, it often has nothing to do with their abilities. Burnout could very well be to blame. 

It can be hard to detect burnout when an employee is seldom (or never) in the office with you face-to-face. Tell-tale signs that burnout is mounting include an increased likelihood that the employee takes meetings with their camera off, goes inactive for long stretches of time during the traditional workday, and is slipping in their performance metrics. A burned-out employee starts to lose interest in and connection to things that they were once passionate about, especially their work. 

Check Out our Downloadable Poster: Tips for Preventing Burnout when Working from Home 

employee burnout strategies for prevention

How to Address Remote Employee Burnout 

1. Flexibility

As alluded to in the beginning of this post, flexibility is the best thing employers can offer employees who are balancing remote or hybrid work with their home lives. What an employer can do to extend flexibility to their workforce differs by industry and circumstance, but offering a hybrid option is a good way to start.

You don’t have to set aside an office for each employee, but you can allow a space in-office for people to get away from the hustle of home. Employees can reserve desks online before coming in to make sure that there’s room for them in a flex-working space.

Related:Ask the Expert: Do I Have to Allow Employees to Work Flexible Schedules? 

2. Connection

The Harvard Business Review, in its 2021 article Addressing the Burnout, Loneliness, and Indifference Associated with Remote Work, reports that 61% of employees crave human interaction with their coworkers. Just because an employee is remote (or even located far from the office) doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t love the chance to come in occasionally, or even to connect socially over video conferencing. Organizing optional events to foster connections outside of work is a great way to help employees feel connected to each other and to their managers. 

3. Lead by Example 

If you find your remote employees are falling victim to the blur of the work-life divide, start to institute balance by leading by example. Don’t respond to emails that include your employees unless you absolutely need to, and avoid reaching out to your subordinates after the traditional workday has concluded.

Understandably, this “rule” works much better for lower-level employees, and higher-level employees are more likely to understand the urgency of unexpected events at odd hours. All other considerations aside, instilling a culture of work-life balance starts from the top, and it’s up to managers to set the tone. 

remote work HR compliance

Outsourcing HR & Employee Relations

Did you know that employee relations and engagement initiatives are often outsourced? Axcet HR Solutions is your partner for all things employee relations. Interested in shifting your workplace culture to address and prevent employee burnout but unsure where to start? Axcet is here to help. Our employee relations experts will work with your organization to help you identify pitfalls, pain points and strategies for future success. Schedule a time to speak with our experienced team today >>

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