In Neil Young’s My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), he utters the line, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” About 15 years later, the line appeared in Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. 

While this is definitely the darkest intro to a post I’ve ever written, it’s an important anecdote that reminds us how crucial it is to learn how to prevent employee burnout. 

Burnout has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but it really can cause harm to you and your employees. In fact, working 55+ hours a week lowers life expectancy and increases the chance of having a stroke by 35%. Burnout can also trigger insomnia, headaches, decreased immunity, and depression. While not formerly considered a health condition, the World Health Organization has deemed it “an occupational phenomenon.” 

For remote workers, that last one is particularly important. Studies have shown that remote workers actually work longer and harder than their in-office counterparts. This can then lead to remote loneliness — a “public health crisis,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

By now, you’re probably well aware of the dangers of burnout, but why is it happening? Let’s delve in. 

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Why is work-from-home burnout happening?

Work-from-home burnout is different from in-office burnout in that it’s often caused by a lack of social interaction, blurred work-life boundaries, and other risk factors that are unique to remote work. But how exactly do each of these factors contribute to burnout? Let’s take a closer look. 

Blurred work-life boundaries

75% of workers experience burnout at some point in their lives, but work-from-home burnout is a little different. When you live in the same space you work, it can be hard to set proper boundaries. This can then lead to an inability to separate work and personal life, which results in overwork. Take it from Michael Dell:

employee burnout
(Source: Medium)

With remote, asynchronous work on the rise, the time zone issue Michael mentions is a very real issue. Keeping tabs on employees working across different time zones can result in working longer hours that then lead to burnout. 

employee burnout

Isolation

One of the best parts about remote work is that you can work from the comforts of your own home, and you don’t have to work as hard at building in-person relationships with co-workers. Unfortunately, this is also one of the worst parts.

Remote loneliness is a very real issue that leads to workplace stress and emotional exhaustion that plagues remote teams around the globe. Fortunately, you can help your employees combat it by prioritizing the Remote Employee Experience (REX).

Increased workload

As a fully remote company, Hubstaffers are usually the first to admit that remote communication challenges can also lead to burnout. When working across multiple timezones with teammates around the globe, it can be hard to accurately manage responsibilities, set realistic expectations, and ensure workloads are balanced. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and strategies to prevent these remote work challenges and prevent burnout for remote employees. 

How to prevent burnout in remote workers

Like with most workplace challenges, preventing burnout in remote workers boils down to good communication, empathetic leadership, and finding the right tools to make it all possible. Let’s take a closer look. 

Setting clear boundaries

Preventing workplace burnout is about setting clear boundaries to combat burnout and empower employees. While defining boundaries is ultimately your employees’ responsibility, you must create a psychologically safe company culture to encourage employees to set them — and without fear of repercussions.

Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Work schedules. If you have employees who work hourly, create work schedules that define consistent work hours and breaks to maintain a healthy work-life balance. For salaried employees, you could try creating a policy that outlines the hours employees are expected to work and if/when they’d be expected to work later.
  • Dedicated workspaces. You can also try suggesting that employees create a specific workspace at home to separate work from personal life. At Hubstaff, we even have a technology budget that rolls over year to year. It’s a great way to save up for some bigger home office items. 
  • Disconnecting. Emphasize the importance of unplugging after work hours to prevent overworking. Create a culture where employees aren’t expected to respond to emails, Slack messages, and other forms of communication after hours. 

Fostering Communication and Connection

To prevent remote loneliness and the burnout that follows, building strong virtual communication best practices is crucial. Some of the ways you can do that is with:

Hubstaff automated Stand-up for asynchronous one-on-ones
  • Regular check-ins. Schedule one-on-ones or regular check-ins to discuss workloads, challenges, and support employees in their needs. If you’re having trouble meeting with certain team members across timezones, consider a virtual Stand-up tool to keep tabs on employee well-being asynchronously.
  • Team activities. Suggest virtual team-building activities, such as online games or group chats, to foster camaraderie and connection. At Hubstaff, we plan virtual retreats on a quarterly basis to stay connected. We play trivia, teach each other new recipes, and more to build team chemistry and take a break from the demands of our jobs.
  • Support networks. Encourage remote workers to build support networks with colleagues or external groups to share experiences and advice. Mentorship programs are also a great way to prevent remote loneliness and help new hires foster connections from the start. 

Managing workloads and expectations

At the end of the day, there aren’t enough pizza parties and virtual retreats in the world to reduce burnout for an overworked employee. Managing workloads, expectations, and employee stress is crucial for preventing burnout and improving employee engagement. Some of the best ways to do that are:

  • Task prioritization. Stress the importance of prioritizing tasks in one-on-ones, check-ins, or even company-wide communications. If an employee is overwhelmed and unaware of where to start, there are a number of task prioritization methods and tools
  • Time management tools. Here’s where the shameless plug comes in. Manage workloads more effectively with a time management tool like Hubstaff. You can see how employees track time to different tasks, identify productive and unproductive apps, and see real-time employee productivity data to ensure workloads are balanced. 
time tracking tool
  • Flexible work schedules. Even with better task prioritization and time management, burnout can still be an issue. Sometimes, it’s as simple as exploring asynchronous schedules. Adding summer hours, mental health days, flexible start times or a fully async policy like we have at Hubstaff can help. 

What are the symptoms of job burnout?

Are you noticing high turnover rates but can’t seem to spot the signs of burnout in order to do anything about it? Each employee is different, but there are a few burnout symptoms you may be able to identify before it’s too late.  

Emotional exhaustion

When you think of exhaustion, you usually think of physical or even mental exhaustion first. That said, emotional exhaustion is equally valid.

For example, a graphic designer might feel burned out from defending their work. If they seem to be shutting down and no longer engaged in their boss’ critiques, it could be a sign of burnout. Providing more positive feedback or even letting up on criticisms altogether for a while could be a good way to limit the exhaustion. 

Declining performance

When employees are burned out, you might start to see their performance slip. If a top performer is starting to go through the motions or miss deadlines altogether, it might be time for a one-on-one to see how they’re doing. 

Sometimes, declining performance can be linked to increased expectations elsewhere. For example, the graphic designer mentioned above might experience a decline in performance if they spend too much time in meetings. Consider exploring tools that help you find a better balance here to increase productivity without compromising employee morale.

encourage employees

Detachment

Last but not least, detachment is also a factor. If an employee starts skipping out on virtual team-building events or seems less interested in meetings, they could be pulling away. Not to scare you, but detachment is often a sign that an employee is so burned out that they’re beginning to look for a new job. In fact, 95% of HR leaders feel that burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. 

It’s better to clock out than to fade away

Unlike many artists we’ve lost over the years, Neil Young is still kicking, and his music career is alive and well. With this post, we hope to have provided some insight into how you can reduce burnout for you and your team so that you can have long, sustainable, and fulfilling careers, too.

Work is important, but it should never come to the detriment of employee mental health, physical health, or emotional well-being. Know when to clock out and give yourself some rest and, most importantly, be an ally to those around you who might not be as vocal about burnout. By providing manager support, you can help those employees become more comfortable with expressing their needs. 

Have any tips for preventing employee burnout and work-related stress that you’ve found success with? We’d love to hear your burnout prevention tips.

Category: Remote