3 Tips to Avoid Working From Home Burnout, from Harvard Business Review

To read this summary in Myanmar language, click here.

Has the novelty of working from home worn out? Are you exhausted from balancing home and work priorities at the same time? Do you always feel “on”? We recommend this summary of Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) article, 3 Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout, written by Laura M. Giurge and Vanessa K. Bohns. Include these daily practices into your schedule to help prevent “burnout” while working from home.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of workers have moved suddenly to remote work throughout the world. Employers share they are often concerned about “maintaining employee productivity.” However, authors Giurge and Bohns warn employers should be concerned with “a longer-term risk: employee burnout.”

Boundaries “between work and non-work are blurring in new and unusual ways.” Employees may feel they must work all the time, “to signal their loyalty, devotion, and productivity.” Quickly, those natural non-work times blur together with work time. Afternoons turn into evenings, weekdays into weekends and pretty quickly, “little sense of time off will remain.” With schools and childcare closed, working parents are faced with additional pressures.

Giurge and Bohns reference research that “suggests that drawing lines between professional and personal lives is crucial, especially for mental health.” The authors’ research shows that workers “often unintentionally make it hard for their supervisors, colleagues, and employees to maintain boundaries.” One example is when workers send work emails outside office hours. Their research shows that workers underestimate how compelled recipients feel “to respond right away, even when such emails are not urgent.”

Apply these three tips to help prevent employee burnout:

  1. Maintain physical and social boundaries

People can mark “transitions from work to non-work roles” by doing physical and social activities that mark that a change has happened. For many, there is no more commute to work. The authors recommend “replacing your morning commute with a walk to a nearby park, or even just around your apartment,” before beginning work at home. Additionally, they recommend getting dressed in work clothes every morning, to mark the time and maintain a work routine as you normally would. 

  1. Maintain time boundaries as much as possible

Many workers face challenges of “integrating childcare or elder-care responsibility during regular work hours.” Employees should be aware and respectful that colleagues may be working during different hours due to these responsibilities. It is important for employees to communicate transparently: “let others know that you might be slower than usual in responding, [this decreases] response expectations for others and yourself.” Another recommendation is for managers to create regular virtual check-in meetings to provide space to coordinate with others who may be working different hours than normal.

  1. Focus on your most important work.

In the midst of competing demands on time, energy, and attention, people working from home should spend their energy on “top-priority issues.” Giurge and Bohns point out that “employees often feel compelled to [show] the appearance of productivity…lead[ing] them to work on tasks that are more immediate instead of more important.” They stress that working constantly “isn’t the answer.” The authors highlight research that says “the average knowledge worker is only productive on average three hours every day, and these hours should be free of interruptions or multitasking.”

This uninterrupted time may be unrealistic now that workers at home face additional responsibilities that take up time and attention. For these reasons, it is extremely important that workers spend the energy and time they do have on the most important projects.

Workers without boundaries, “who feel ‘on’ all the time are at a higher risk of burnout when working from home than if they were going to the office as usual.” While working from home, employees must resist the urge to “squeeze in work and email responses whenever [they] have a few minutes to do so” throughout the weekend, during a movie, at nap time, in the evenings.

When possible, protect others’ times by sending non-urgent emails during regular office hours. Try to identify work-time and non-work time in order to sustain long-term productivity and mental health for you and your employees throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Lastly, the authors encourage employers to give employees the “flexibility to experiment with how to make their circumstances work” during these uncertain times. These measures will help to prevent employee burnout while working from home.

To read the full article, click here.

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The DeBoer Fellowship develops change leaders across all sectors of Myanmar society. Through a multi-year training class and additional public programs, the DeBoer Fellowship serves Myanmar by helping to grow competent, compassionate, and ethical leaders. For more information about DeBoer Fellowship or to apply for the Fellowship, please visit: www.deboerfellowship.org.

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