Lovewell’s logic: Is remote working leading to employee burnout?

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, much has been written in both the industry and national press on the impact this has had on various aspects of the nation’s mental health and wellbeing. One conversation I have had several times over the past couple of weeks, however, is around the potential for remote or homeworking arrangements to lead to employee burnout.

On the face of it, working remotely offers employees the opportunity to structure their working day around personal commitments such as caring responsibilities. However, some employees have reported feeling pressure to combat the perception that working from home is less productive than working in an office environment in sight of management, particularly following media reports in September that several organisations have installed monitoring and surveillance tools to keep track of what their employees are doing while working remotely.

Even when this is not the case on the part of the employer, employees may feel the need to be more responsive to communications or put in additional hours to prove their commitment and productivity. In some cases, this may be fueled by concerns around job security in a difficult economic environment.

According to a US study, Mental health America study: Mental health in the workplace by FlexJobs, published in August 2020, 75% of the more than 1,500 respondents reported having experienced burnout at work, with 40% of this group doing so during the pandemic. More than a third (37%) of respondents reported working longer hours during the pandemic.

With remote working likely to continue for some time yet for many organisations, ensuring strategies and initiatives are in place to combat stress and support employees’ mental wellbeing is vital to ensure they do not reach the point of burnout. Although it may be difficult to monitor employees’ working hours while they are away from a physical workplace, clearly communicating expectations and ensuring there are open channels of communication available to staff should they need them. The Flexjobs research, for example, also found that just 21% felt able to have an honest, open conversation with HR about possible solutions to address the burnout they were experiencing, while more than half (56%) felt that their employer’s HR department did not encourage conversations about burnout.

In some instances, tackling burnout before it occurs may be a matter of challenging and changing outdated perceptions rather than the need to review and alter existing working practices.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
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