Take steps now to avoid employee burnout.
Offering extra support and setting working hour boundaries are two ways to help prevent burnout among your employees. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

As more employees find themselves working from home, the line between work and free time is increasingly blurred. When work takes place in the same location as personal life, it can be hard to separate the two. Workers feel pressure to be “always on” and respond to emails no matter what the time of day. “Those who struggle with balancing home and work are 4.4x more likely to exhibit signs of burnout,” reported Forbes.

Here’s how to spot the signs of an employee approaching burnout and make sure to address the problem head-on.

Create a boundaries agreement

A boundaries agreement clarifies your expectations with your team around availability, working hours, and response times. It’s a great way to help your team separate work life from home life. It will also help your team collaborate and communicate more efficiently. Likewise, it provides a framework for your employees to share with their partner, roommate, or family members; the boundaries agreement will help easy any guilt around trying to juggle caregiving, homeschooling and other responsibilities with work.

[Read more: How to Survive Working from Home — While the Kids Are Home, Too]

Offer extra support

Typically, burnout results from employees managing too much work. COVID-19, however, has changed that dynamic slightly.

“In a stunning role reversal, ‘work’ is now an escape from the stresses and pressures of ‘home.’ And right now, ‘home’ encompasses the fallout people are dealing with in their personal lives: financial stress, family conflict, and anxiety about physical health,” reported Fast Company.

It may be that employee burnout is happening without your company having anything to do with it. Check in with your employees more regularly to find out what’s going on at home. Ask open-ended questions to find out how your team is faring personally and professionally. Consider offering a resource like teletherapy or meditation sessions to give some extra support to employees who may have more on their plate than you realize.

[Read more: Expert Advice on How to Support Your Employees During a Crisis]

Just because someone is working from home doesn’t mean they don’t need a vacation.

Help your team prioritize

“This is not the time for busy work. Workers should be devoting their energy to top-priority issues,” wrote Harvard Business Review.

Younger employees, especially millennials, may feel compelled to seem busy for fear of coming across as disconnected or distracted while working from home. HBR notes that this compulsion can lead your team to work on tasks that are more immediate, rather than things that are important. It can also prevent workers from signing off at the end of the day. These behaviors inevitably lead to burnout, lost productivity and demoralization.

Try to add transparency to your work management during this time and encourage employees to prioritize only the most important work. Be clear about why you’re asking a team member to do something: How will it contribute to business results? Honor your boundaries agreement by setting deadlines that incentivize only the most valuable deliverables, and encouraging the team to sign off when those are done.

Work against loneliness

Loneliness and isolation can also lead to burnout. And, according to one study, 21% of employees believe that loneliness is the number one challenge of working remotely. For those who live alone, loneliness at work gets compounded by social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures. It’s no longer easy to set up camp in a cafe to work for the day. Even employees surrounded by family can feel lonely from time to time.

Bring your team together for some kind of social activity each week. Share wins, give positive feedback, and let the team connect over a virtual happy hour or lunchtime. As things start to re-open, see if the team is comfortable going on a socially distant hike or volunteer activity. Check to see if people need to take vacation days.

Offer time off

Just because someone is working from home doesn’t mean they don’t need a vacation. If an employee on your team is really struggling, it may be better not to fight through. Instead, take time off to completely unplug. Enforce this time away by asking other employees not to bother that person and reroute requests to other members of the team. Preventing burnout with time off in the short term can lead to better employee retention in the long term.

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Published June 22, 2020