Is it possible to burn out when working from home?
If someone had asked me that question two months ago, I would have said “no”.
Prior to COVID-19, I chose to work from home from time to time. Not regularly, but I was able to do it when I needed to, and I really enjoyed it. The arrangement meant that if a child was sick, I was able to carry on working while keeping an eye on them. If I had a couple of commitments during the day (whether it was a doctor’s appointment or a school assembly), it allowed me to work more efficiently by omitting the travel back and forth to the office. Or, if I had a full-on day and I had to concentrate on desk-based work, it allowed me to focus without the disruptions of the office.
On those days, I didn’t have any signs of mental or physical discomfort. I love my home and it was a welcome change when I did bring my work into it.
However, what we are experiencing now is completely different than the usual working from home scenarios. As a result of the lockdown, many of us have now turned our homes into offices. The change didn’t come about because it suited our lifestyle or needs – instead, we shifted to working remotely as that is now the only option.
With that change also came school closures, your other half also working from home, stress from the unknown of a worldwide pandemic, worry about our loved ones and a world out there that is completely different to what we are used to. So, unfortunately, working from home doesn’t offer its usual comfort and efficiency; rather, it now means juggling a million things mentally and physically while trying to do your job as best you can.
If you ask me the question now “would you get burnout from working from home”, I’d say, “absolutely!”
So, what could contribute to a burnout when your home is also your office, and how can we avoid making ourselves ill while navigating through the extremely different world we are currently in?
Projects at Home
I have come across many posts and conversations where people have set themselves tasks to carry out through the lockdown – projects to complete, self-development goals to achieve and fitness challenges to undertake. These are all positive things keeping us connected to normality, but it’s important to ensure you are not beating yourself up at the end if you haven’t achieved the results you hoped to.
Remind yourself why we are in lockdown. In reality, your biggest achievement through this should be “not getting the virus” and “not contributing to the spread of it”.
Sharing Your House with Others 24/7
This is something else I came across, particularly at the start of lockdown. Some people were genuinely worried about sharing the same space with their other half with no break from each other. In my case, one of the few advantages of lockdown is that I am going to be with my husband 24/7. But I understand that this may not be an ideal scenario for some. This could also be the family you had to start living with or the flatmates whom you normally only see in the evenings and weekends.
Maybe it would help if we reassess some of the things that we normally get annoyed at. Perhaps it is ok not to have the towels folded the way you like them, if the other parent in the house decided the kids can have longer screen time, or if one person cooked more or did more chores than the other this week.
It is now more important than ever to keep the communication channels open and be understanding of each other. If talking is not helping, go for a walk around the block or ask for time out to be alone for a while.
Be Kind to Yourself
I love my job. What I love about it the most are the interactions I experience every day with different people from different backgrounds. As an extrovert, I arrive at work and immediately feel positive once I start chatting with my colleagues. Having those interactions, getting coffees together and laughing at our own jokes are all part of my work life. It may not seem productive or directly contributing to results, but it is the fuel that keeps us going, motivates us and allows us to learn from each other’s experiences, which in return contributes to success at work.
As part of our jobs, we also meet with candidates and our contacts from different organisations. These interactions again refuel our desire to help people and achieve results at work. We spend some of our time walking to those meetings, giving us exposure to the outside world, physical activity and a change of scenery. We take time out at lunch breaks or when it suits, to exercise. Some of us try and do that in groups which again means we are bonding with our colleagues and varying our connection to work.
Working from home, I can think of many other aspects of my job that I do not get to do anymore. If we take all those factors into consideration, our desk-based activity would definitely not count for eight hours straight.
With this in mind, it is not fair on you if you feel pressured to knock out eight hours’ solid work in this environment.
Our normal flow of work also didn’t include having worries we never experienced. We went to work knowing kids were at school, other half at their job, loved ones were OK and holiday plans were in place for the near or distant future. We didn’t have to think about a global pandemic and its effects on all of us.
So, be kind to yourself. If you were a hardworking employee who upheld high the values of your workplace before the pandemic, your employer will certainly know you are trying your best.
When the lockdown began, I created something that kind of resembled a daily routine. I thought I’d be getting up at 5.30am, exercising, having my coffee, starting work at 6am and doing six hours solid until midday. I haven’t. Not once.
Instead, I wake up refreshed at a reasonable time. I have coffee in bed, catch up on news and mostly I start work at 9am. Mid-morning team meetings give me a break and time to connect with colleagues. I then stop for lunch. That’s when I go for a walk with husband and kids around the park. I do not feel bad about not doing more targeted exercise or my usual classes, rather, I enjoy every step we take around that park and during the walk, I try and completely forget all the challenges we are currently facing. I do not feel rushed or guilty for not being at my desk. I make sure I enjoy that time outside and use it concentrate on the positives and nature around us.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the worry that you are not doing enough hours of work from home, talk to your manager. Agree on tasks you can do, when you can do them and rather than watching the clock, concentrate on what you achieve.
Remind yourself that this is not our usual working from home situation, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Find your own rhythm and be kind to yourself.
It is OK to Feel Low
And lastly, remember that it’s OK to feel low. It’s OK that our kids see that we are not our most positive, bubbly, energetic selves. It’s OK that we are worried and tearful at times.
I found that this was another factor that could lead to burnout – having to be strong and positive all the time for everyone around you, especially if you were that person prior to the pandemic.
Let people around you know if you need time out and want to be left alone, or if you are not feeling your most positive.
I’d say the message out there at the moment is a good starting point: Be kind, and don’t forget to include yourself. After all, we are going through an extraordinary time that no one could have predicted – and we’re all doing the best we can!
How are you finding working from home? Do you have any advice on looking after your wellbeing during this time? I’d love to hear your thoughts.