Home-based work has many benefits but also some unique challenges – Porch’s Denisse Garcia explores what you can do to combat those challenges, and find work-life balance
The term “burnout” has been thrown around workplaces for years, but what does it actually mean? According to Psychology Today, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
There are three main types of burnout associated with the workplace:
- Overload burnout. Most of us are familiar with this type since it involves working hard over a prolonged period of time in an effort to find success or get ahead in our work. Sometimes, overload burnout can be the result of taking on extra work due to staffing shortages.
- Underchallenged burnout. The opposite of overload burnout, this type involves feeling bored, underappreciated, and frustrated in the workplace because of a lack of challenges or opportunities. A characteristic of this type of burnout is a lack of passion or even complete indifference toward work.
- Neglect burnout. This type of burnout involves feeling helpless in the workplace. It may be the result of plans and projects not going as well as they should, meeting (and not getting beyond) barriers, and an inability to get ahead. Neglect burnout can result in a lack of motivation and ambition.
The unique challenge of remote work burnout
It may feel impossible to maintain a work-life balance, no matter where you are. When working from home, the home office can’t always be shut away behind a closed door at the end of the day.
Many factors can result in burnout when you’re engaged with home-based work, including:
- Structure. Brick-and-mortar workplaces often come with a schedule – or at least some kind of working structure. If you don’t impose a schedule on yourself, you may end up working through breaks and ending your day later than expected.
- Distractions. The home office is a source of many distractions, including calling and texting, watching TV, caring for pets, receiving deliveries, and dealing with sound interference from outside your home.
- Setting boundaries. People in your life may forget that you’re working when you’re at home. It can be hard to set boundaries when your presence suggests you’re available to help or socialize with them during regular work hours.
- Isolation. Working from home means you’re without the social side of a brick-and-mortar workplace, leading to feelings of isolation and unmotivation.
- Less exercise. Working from home can result in getting less exercise than you would in a typical office setting. Less activity can result in poor sleep, which can result in a lack of focus at work.
The digital age: a double-edged sword
Working from home and working in an office each come with their own pros and cons, some of which can overlap. Here’s a quick look at how these options stack up against each other:
Home office pros
- Greater productivity
- Greater mobility/ability to work anywhere
- No commute
- Money saved on gas/travel
- Better communication through co-worker interaction
- Work/life balance
Home office cons
- Lack of access to workplace technology
- Too many distractions
- Managing workers remotely
- Keeping to a schedule
- Temptation to slack off
- Days become confused
Bricks-and-mortar office pros
- Firm structure/schedule
- Ability to collaborate with co-workers
- Easier to socialize
- Firm work expectations
- Work/life balance
- Varied meals
- Greater potential for career growth
Bricks-and-mortar office cons
- Lack of office space
- Lack of exercise during work hours
- Reduced productivity due to interruption
- Rigid work uniform requirements
- Less flexibility
- Lack of control over your environment
While maintaining a home office may be a solution in an increasingly digital age, it’s not without challenges.
Recognizing the signs of burnout
The symptoms of burnout aren’t always obvious at first, especially when you’re the type of chronically super-busy person who goes through life at 100 miles an hour. However, burnout can take a toll on not only your performance at work but also on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The end result is that you’re left exhausted, irritable, apathetic, and feeling trapped.
The symptoms of burnout are widespread and can affect your entire body and mental well-being. It’s important to know what you’re up against. Here are some of the more common symptoms:
- Lack of motivation. Burnout can cause a lack of desire to work.
- Thoughts of incompetency or inadequacy. Burnout can result in you believing you’re incompetent or inadequate.
- Chronic procrastination. A lack of motivation may result in you putting off your tasks for as long as possible.
- Dreading going to work. Burnout creates negative thought patterns, which result in a dread of going to work.
- Decrease in your sense of accomplishment. The negative thinking spurred by burnout can lower your sense of accomplishment, so you get less happiness from your work.
- Chronic stress. Burnout brings on chronic stress, which can cause its own host of health concerns, like pain, heart palpitations, and more.
- Poor sleep/poor sleeping habits. Burnout can cause unhealthy sleeping patterns, making it hard to get quality sleep.
- Exhaustion. Exhaustion can result from chronic stress and poor sleeping habits.
- Frequent health problems. Burnout can cause you to become sick more often or develop migraines, depression, and anxiety.
- Irritability/anger. The physical and mental symptoms of burnout can result in you becoming irritable or easily angered.
- Developing a sudden and intense dislike for your work. Negative thoughts and feelings, as well as the exhaustion created by burnout, may result in an intense dislike for your work.
- Feelings of hopelessness. Burnout is often overwhelming and all-encompassing. Feelings of hopelessness go hand-in-hand with other symptoms.
- Increased need for self-isolation. The negative thoughts and feelings created by burnout may result in an increased need for self-isolation.
- Increased cynicism. Along with increased negative thoughts and feelings comes an increasingly pessimistic view of life.
The behavioral patterns: when burnout takes hold
Burnout can have such a profound effect on your mental and emotional well-being that it may actually change your behavior. In the middle of burnout, you may become withdrawn, easily irritated or angered, and overly pessimistic. These behaviors – aside from being ultimately bad for you – can put a serious strain on your relationships if you don’t take steps to mediate the problem. Most interventions involve preventing burnout from happening, but there are ways to cope when you’re already past that point.
Coping strategies for burnout
If you find yourself in the middle of a burnout, some healthy coping strategies can help you manage and eventually pull out of it. Here are some ways you can deal with burnout:
- Self-care. Taking care of yourself is important in coping with burnout. Make a conscious decision to restrict screen time, drink enough water, and work some exercise into your daily routine.
- Identify the problem. Are you bogged down with too much work? Do you feel helpless or underappreciated? Identifying the problem can tell you if it’s something you can change.
- Look ahead. Think about where you’d like to be. What does a great work environment look like for you? Think of ways you can regain autonomy and a feeling of being valued.
- Delegate. Assign tasks to other people to avoid feeling like you’re the only qualified person who can handle them.
- Diversify. Burnout can make you feel like life is all about work, work, work, and nothing else. By giving time to hobbies and other pursuits, you can eventually pull out of burnout.
Whether you maintain a home office or work in a brick-and-mortar office, there are two sides to the burnout equation: yours and the company’s. The company you work for has a vested interest in preventing burnout in employees, as it may result in loss of job satisfaction and performance quality.
An employer can help prevent employee burnout by hosting virtual or in-person team-building activities, creating opportunities for honest communication, or giving employees regular check-ins.
Preventing burnout: a proactive approach
Preventing burnout from taking hold involves the same coping mechanisms you’d use when you’re already in that state – look after yourself and take steps to de-stress. Whether you’re trying to pull yourself out of a state of burnout or working toward preventing it from happening in the first place, taking care of yourself and developing a set of positive habits and techniques is a valuable step.
Nourishing your body: the foundation of well-being
The biggest part of maintaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit is often what people find most intimidating: self-care. While it’s important to take time out to do things for yourself – like visit the spa or get a massage – looking after yourself can simply mean simply exercising and eating well.
Start by introducing regular exercise into your daily routine. This may be the last thing you want to do on a day full of work projects and meetings, but regular exercise is a fantastic way of lifting your mood, alleviating stress, and helping you focus and relax your mind and body. Regular exercise promotes healthy sleeping habits, which helps you remain alert while at work.
Your diet is another source of health and wellness, and it can have a profound impact on your energy levels during the day. By minimizing sugar and refined carbs and controlling your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and unhealthy fats, you can boost your energy, avoid untimely crashes, and improve your overall health. Try adding Omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts) and protein to boost your mood and provide long-lasting energy.
Designing spaces for relaxation and creativity
Part of relaxing or indulging your creative side involves designing an encouraging space. If you like arts and crafts, designing an area that makes you want to sit down and create something makes it easier to set aside time to do what makes you happy.
If you’re not a crafty person, maybe designing a space for relaxation is more your speed. Whether it’s a meditation corner, a quiet bathroom for taking soothing hot baths, or a cozy living room that makes you want to unwind with a good book or a movie, the potential for creating relaxing spaces in your home is virtually endless. No matter what type of relaxation space you need, it should be filled with décor and furniture that you find pleasing and soothing. Create a way to encourage yourself to take time-outs.
Before planning renovations or new additions to your workspace, make sure to review your home insurance policy and update it if necessary.
Leveraging technology for well-being
In a digital world, technology is the key to getting ahead. A certain amount of digital connection is necessary to complete your work tasks and communicate with your co-workers and bosses, but you can also use technology to track your healthy habits and encourage mindfulness. Apps like Headspace, Calm, and The Mindfulness App help you establish a daily mindfulness and meditation practice, offering a healthy way to cope with stress. Apps like Google Fit, Noom, and MyFitnessPal help you track your daily exercise and healthy habits.
Consider limiting your screen time outside of the home office to encourage social interaction with your family and friends, which can boost your mental and emotional well-being. Sometimes, restricting access to your technology can be just as important as having access to it.
Time management and productivity techniques
Burning out at the home office may stem from poor time management or lackluster productivity techniques. This is where finding the balance between time management and productivity techniques comes into play. Here are a handful of ways to manage time and boost your productivity so you don’t feel inclined to work longer hours:
- Set S.M.A.R.T goals (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related).
- Prioritize urgent tasks.
- Use a calendar or agenda to track your projects and tasks.
- Plan ahead for each day or week at the end of the previous day or week.
- Learn to say “no” if you aren’t capable of completing a task on time.
- Delegate tasks to boost overall productivity.
- Complete the most difficult task first to get it out of the way.
- Set time limits for each task, including your break times.
- Get rid of outside distractions to help you focus.
Finding balance between work and family life
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is tricky, especially when you have a family. It’s important to take steps to ensure that your work life doesn’t collide with your home life.
Here are some tips to create a healthy work-life balance:
- Set clear boundaries. Let your family know that your work hours are important and to leave you alone during those hours. Setting clear work boundaries helps you focus on your home life once work is done.
- Prioritize self-care and family care. Taking time to practice self-care and do fun things with your family is key to establishing a healthy balance.
- Don’t overcommit. Agreeing to too many projects and tasks means you end up working longer than you should, which takes away from your family time. If you get handed extra tasks, consider delegating them to others.
- Take regular vacations. Planning regular vacations with your family is a great way to set aside time for you all to de-stress and reinforce the bonds in your relationships.
- Take up a hobby. Pursuing your interests is a great way to set aside time for yourself. If your children are into the same things, consider doing them together for some one-on-one time.
Thanks to the advancements in technology, finding remote work has become increasingly accessible. Navigating this new work trend requires a balance where both people and organizations adapt to this new lifestyle. It’s important to recognize that workplace burnout is just as prevalent in home offices as it is in brick-and-mortar offices.
Keeping your personal health and well-being at the forefront and nurturing your relationships with your loved ones are great ways to balance and maintain a positive work-life balance. Being happy and healthy while remaining productive in your home office is possible by taking proactive steps to cope with burnout.