Unable to Disconnect From Work
High on the list of causes for remote work burnout is that some remote employees find it difficult to disconnect from work. The main reason, as we currently understand it, is that personal and work life are more intertwined in a remote work environment simply because they both occur in the same place – typically, the remote worker’s home. The absence of boundaries between work and personal space is a big issue when it comes to working in a remote setting.
Working Longer Hours
Research shows that, on average, remote workers tend to work 3 hours more (i.e., about 11 hours per day) than regular office workers. It seems like the main reason for this lies in the remote employees’ inability to disconnect from work, the interconnectedness of work and personal spaces, and the challenge of working with colleagues from different time zones.
This shows that longer working hours can cause further problems regarding work-life balance, increased stress levels, fatigue, and ultimately burnout for remote workers.
One solution for these issues is to switch the focus of remote work to measuring deliverables instead of just tracking the number of work hours they put in. This way, remote workers will be held accountable for the quality of their work and the deadlines they adhere to.
Having limited access to immediate guidance or feedback from a manager can cause stress to remote employees. A 2022 report by the brand-building service provider Buffer shows that 17% of the 2,000 remote workers they interviewed experience difficulties with collaboration and communication in a remote work setting, making this a relatively common issue.
Poor collaboration and communication between teams, remote employees, and their managers can lead to uncertainty and work-related stress, triggering remote work burnout.
The best fix for this issue is to create proper communication channels and have regular communication. This helps clear up any issues that employees might be experiencing, as well as resolve any feelings of uncertainty that they have about their work.
Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness
Remote work burnout can be exacerbated by feelings of isolation and loneliness. And, as some studies have shown, remote workers harbor these feelings at a slightly higher percentage than those working in a regular office setting.
The increased feeling of loneliness is strongly associated with the level of support provided by co-workers and supervisors. This is worsened by the lack of communication and human contact, social isolation during work hours, and similar.
Loneliness can cause stress, and prolonged feelings of stress are considered one of the main causes of burnout.
No Set Routine
While it is true that remote work offers more flexibility when it comes to work schedules, that in itself is not always a good thing. Some remote workers may lack the self-discipline and self-motivation skills to create a work structure and a set routine.
In a regular work setting, employees don’t have to think about creating a routine themselves, as they usually have fixed work times and schedules. For example, they arrive at the office at 9 am and leave at 5 pm. In some cases, remote work doesn't require fixed working hours (in the case of flexible work schedules), which can cause stress, uncertainty, and frustration to some remote workers and, ultimately, burnout.
Most Common Symptoms of Burnout
Work-related burnout can manifest itself in many different ways and cause various types of behaviors in people.
The most prevalent physical symptoms of burnout include:
- Frequent headaches;
- Indigestion and stomach pain;
- Heart palpitations;
- Feelings of chronic fatigue or exhaustion;
- Insomnia and/or uneven sleep patterns;
- Lack or increase in appetite;
- Decreased libido;
- Weakened immune system, which can lead to frequent illness;
The most common emotional symptoms of burnout are:
- Feeling a lack of energy and motivation;
- Feeling increasingly irritable and frustrated;
- Lashing out;
- Feelings of loneliness and detachment from other people;
- Feeling helpless;
- Inability to feel satisfied or decreased feelings of satisfaction;
- Feelings associated with anxiety, such as restlessness, sadness, or feelings of hopelessness;
The most common behavioral signs of burnout are:
- Lowered productivity and efficacy when dealing with work-related tasks;
- Isolating from people in general (including co-workers);
- Frequent and longer periods of procrastination;
- Outbursts, such as starting arguments, provoking and/or berating co-workers or other people in general;
- Substance abuse (most commonly alcohol or drugs);
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities that a person experiencing burnout previously enjoyed (meaning they had feelings of happiness or satisfaction while engaged in those activities prior to burnout);
Adverse Effects of Burnout on Workers and Companies
Burnout can negatively impact both the workers experiencing it and the companies that employ them. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that still requires a lot of studying and monitoring if we are to completely understand it and its effects.
Based on the current knowledge on this topic, some of the negative effects of burnout are: