Millions of Americans trying to work from home and ever-changing health policies are making up for another pandemic side effect: burnout.
Neither pandemic stress nor burnout are new – but burnout workers feel differently at the moment. After vaccinations rose at the beginning of summer and Covid-19 cases fell, many people excitedly planned an almost normal fall and took off their masks. Book trips and count the days until you can see your colleagues in person again. The highly contagious Delta variant has dashed such hopes, however: cases are skyrocketing again, and many companies, including Apple and Facebook, which previously announced an autumn return, have now postponed their plans to 2022.
“The second case of the pandemic is almost worse than the first because many people were hoping for and preparing for a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Laura Pendergrass, Ph.D., a business psychologist who advises Fortune 500 companies CNBC tells Make It. “People were tired at the beginning of the lockdown, but it is even more stressful to focus on work when the world is still upside down 18 months later.”
According to a recent TINYpulse survey, around 86% of remote employees say they have experienced severe burnout, compared to around 69% of personal employees.
While working from home sometimes seems impossible, there are small changes we can make in our routines to make our work (and our lives) happier and more engaging. Below are Pendergrass’ top tips for combating burnout while working remotely:
Take your time to recharge
The Covid-19 pandemic has barely resulted in more free time – in fact, research by NordVPN teams has shown that remote workers work an additional 2.5 hours a day compared to their pre-pandemic schedule.
Instead, workers should spend at least an hour each day stepping away from their computer screens and doing an activity they love, says Pendergrass. “When you work from home, especially for 18 months, work can invade all areas of your life,” she adds. “Breaks help us to pause and realign our work-life balance.”
Start with a list of activities that will lift your spirits and take time on your schedule, whether it be in the morning, at lunch, or between meetings, to relax. “Even 20 minutes for a walk, a new TV show or reading a book chapter can contribute to energy and concentration,” explains Pendergrass. “Experiment with different types of breaks to stimulate your brain.”
Rewrite your to-do list
Coping with a pandemic – especially while watching a familiar, frightening pace of rising Covid-19 cases – can feel overwhelming. Having an endless to-do list at work and at home just means unnecessary stress, says Pendergrass. “The best way to combat burnout is to set yourself manageable goals,” she says. “If your goal is to tackle an intense month-long project, it won’t give you the positive mental reinforcement you need.”
Those short-term goals can be anything that can be checked off your to-do list by the end of the day or at most the end of the week, advises Pendergrass, such as meeting up with a coworker. Making lists not only helps us navigate the chaos of life, but can also help suppress fears and renew our minds, she adds, even when we are isolated and lonely from our co-workers while at home working out.
Start a new project
Burnout doesn’t just happen when we’re overwhelmed – it can creep up when we feel like we’re not doing enough. “If every day feels repetitive and monotonous, it can lead to burnout,” says Pendergrass. “Employees may feel like they are not doing anything really effective, like there is no clear finish line they can ever cross.”
To prevent burnout, Pendergrass encourages workers to think about what they can do to renew their sense of hope and agency in their current job. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I use my skills better or differently at work?’ and ‘What can I do to make a new contribution to the company that others may not have thought of?’ ”she says.
Workers should also explore side projects or committees to get involved on to remind them that they are capable of making a positive impact in the world even in these troubled times. “It’s really important to find hope,” says Pendergrass. “Your work is important.”
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