As many companies switched to home offices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have experienced both challenges and advantages. Others have at least gotten used to it.
But for some, mostly women, it has brought particular physical and emotional stress – and even the risk of job burnout.
"Studies show that they're often the ones who, besides doing their job, take care of the kids when creches and schools are closed," says Franziska Stiegler, director of Mental Health in the World of Work (psyGA), a program supported by the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
Single people are also a risk group for job burnout while working remotely, Stiegler notes, since social interaction – severely curtailed during the pandemic – is a key component of a person's mental balance.
A common complaint by many telecommuters is the lack of clear separation between their job and private life. This can make it hard to recharge your batteries, so to speak, and some people end up feeling drained.
"They're chronically exhausted and have difficulty being interested or finding meaning in their job," says Eric Quintane, a professor at the Berlin-based European School of Management and Technology (ESMT).
What's more, Quintane adds, many are plagued by doubt about their ability to do their work well, and not uncommonly their performance is indeed compromised.
Workers who find themselves increasingly saying – or thinking – "I can't take any more, I've had it," should seek professional help, advises Stiegler, and "the sooner the better." Some health insurance companies offer online instruction on preventing job burnout, and free counseling may be available from charitable institutions.
Quintane emphasizes that workers who suffer from job burnout shouldn't be stigmatized, remarking, "Burnout isn't a sign that an employee is weaker, less resilient or less capable than others."
To keep job burnout at bay, workers would do well to be ever mindful of tips on staying healthy while working from home. They include making sure they have the proper technical equipment and that their workspace is ergonomic, taking regular breaks, ending their workday on time and getting plenty of exercise.
It's also important to digitally compare notes with co-workers as well as superiors on a regular basis. And workers should openly address any problems they may have.
"Ideally, every supervisor should contact his or her staff at least once a week, ask whether there are any home-office problems and discuss possible solutions," Stiegler says.
These exchanges can also be an opportunity to sound out whether the work is being fairly distributed among all of the staff, points out Quintane. In this regard it could be helpful, he says, to evaluate the frequency of the "digital fingerprints" left on a joint product by the telecommuters.
"In other words, look at the email traffic, phone logs and recordings of conferences on digital platforms, without examining the content," Quintane explains. A study he initiated at ESMT showed that overtaxed staff can easily be identified this way.
Quintane and his team are currently working on an algorithm that recognizes potential risk factors for job burnout.
"Our long-term goal is to develop an automated warning system that prevents burnout," he says.
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