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How to Identify Burnout in the Hybrid Workplace and 3 Ways to Combat it

Burnout. We’re all familiar with it. The overwhelm, the peak stress levels, the exhaustion. It’s a concept that has been around since the ‘60s and has become known the world over to describe the extreme effects work can have on our physical and mental health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’  And in 2019, they officially recognised burnout in the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon.

As burnout refers specifically to the effects of work, it makes sense that any disruption to the normal structure of work can impact on the prevalence of burnout in workers.  

Enter: a global pandemic. It’s hard to think of something more disruptive than a global event on this scale, one that changed the way we work forever. With lockdowns toppling the work-life balance and our working environments changing so significantly in a short space of time, this undoubtedly had an effect on our mental health and our likelihood to experience burnout.  

Let’s take a closer look

Burnout is defined by three elements:

1. Feeling exhausted and low in energy
2. Feeling negative and inadequate about work
3. Being less effective at work

There are many reasons for burnout occurring. Among these, you’ll find increased workload, lack of control, poor working relationships, lack of good management, reward, or recognition, differing values, deadline pressures, and poor work-life balance. These are just a few of the factors that may come into play when the path is leading us to burnout. Due to the complexity and uniqueness of all of our situations, some reasons can be addressed by workers themselves, but others can only be addressed with the help of those around us.

Hybrid burnout

The move towards hybrid working has brought with it many benefits, not least around the positive impact it can have on our wellbeing and mental health. But that doesn’t mean it is an environment where burnout is never present.  

Hybrid workers may feel the need to demonstrate increased productivity if they are based at home and not in the office. Communication from leaders may not be as strong to their remote workers as their office workers. And the increased time working alone can negatively impact on mental health.

Identifying burnout in the hybrid workplace can be tricker than in the traditional office setup, largely because of the split locations of workers. How can you identify if your colleague is pre-burnout or burnt-out if you don’t see them? We know this isn’t straightforward, so we’ve put together some of the warning signs to look out for, not just in your teammates but reflecting on how you feel too. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees and it’s very possible you’re feeling burnout without recognising it.

Physical Signs

Perhaps the most obvious signs of burnout are the outward, physical effects. These can include tiredness, fatigue, and low energy levels.  

An occupational risk with working from home is in not being able to switch off and working longer hours than you might in the office. This can lead to high levels of exhaustion, which leads to lack of energy.  And changes in our appearance can happen if low mood is leading to us to not eat well or take exercise.

Emotional Signs

You may recognise these in yourself or have noticed them in your colleagues. Irritability, low mood and feeling down. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and losing motivation.  And a big one for hybrid workers who are based mostly at home is loneliness; feeling detached and alone because of the isolation associated with hybrid working.

Hybrid colleagues may become less contactable, no longer engaging with their teams, and keeping what contact they do have to essential contact only. They may also withdraw from meetings, events, or social engagements.

Performance impact signs

Hybrid burnout can show itself in work performance.  Missed deadlines or longer time taken to achieve tasks that previously took much less time. You may notice in your colleagues too, that they are avoiding certain tasks and delivering on work late.  Work quality may suffer as burnout leads to feeling distant and disenfranchised with work.

So, what can we do?

Burnout doesn’t go away on its own, but, thankfully, there are lots of ways we can help ourselves and our teams.

Prioritise wellbeing

A good employee-centred anti-burnout plan should place wellbeing at its heart. Focusing on the things we can do for our own self-care, and the things we can all do to support each other for colleague-care.  

Communication between the office and remote workers should be easy, open, and accessible at all times. Leaders should be regularly checking in with their remote teams to help combat feelings of isolation, though without removing any autonomy and control.

Companies should offer opportunities for staff to practice good self-care; mindfulness, promoting positive mental health, and promoting positive physical health. They should also offer signposting and resources for workers to access professional help should they need it.And companies should encourage all colleagues, regardless of location, to keep talking and keep engaging, so they remain connected and feel they are being supported, not just by leaders but by each other too.

A solid structure

How many times have you voiced your appreciation for having a routine in your life?  Routine helps to support our mental health, by giving us some outline to our day that is familiar and stable.    

A solid structure is beneficial for office work as well as remote work, but in helping to address hybrid burnout, it’s crucial that remote workers have structure in place for home working.  

Clear boundaries to bookend the start and end of the working day help to ensure you are not blurring the lines between work and home.   Having defined break times provides your day with planned slots in which you can carry out your work, with comfort pauses built in, giving you time to breath, take stock, take a moment, and not become overwhelmed.  

And having this structure means you can communicate to your managers and teams the times you are working and the times you are not.

Get equipped

Technology forms a significant part of the success of remote working and if any part of the technological setup fails, it can impact negatively on our mental health and our ability to work effectively. Businesses should ensure that all colleagues are properly equipped for work in the office, at home, and anywhere else they may be working as part of their hybrid work schedule.  

And equipment doesn’t stop at the machines we use. You should have policies in place for how hybrid working is managed in your company, for how wellbeing is supported, and processes to support initiatives to combat burnout. For example, you might have a stress risk assessment or a wellbeing plan. The more tools you have in your anti-burnout kit, the better for your teams and for the company as a whole.

Burnout is natural effect of modern working, but fortunately, it’s one we have many ways to address.  There are many support organisations that provide information and advice, including Mind,  Mental Health UK, Mental Health America, The National Institute for Mental Health,  and the World Health Organisation.And we have some of our own tips about looking after your wellbeing, here on our blog.

Madeleine Thompson

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