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Remote work burnout is growing as pandemic stretches on. Here's how to manage it

Key Points
  • Over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, according to Monster.
  • Stress and financial anxiety are high, yet workers are not taking enough time off to recharge, fearing they could be the next layoff if they don't work hard enough.
Westend61 | Getty Images

It used to be that working remotely was a perk. These days it's about survival. 

Those lucky enough to have jobs have seen their offices shuttered in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus, and their home is now doubling as their workplace. It hasn't been easy. In fact, as the pandemic stretches on, more Americans are becoming burned out, according to a recent survey by global online employment platform Monster

Over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, the survey found. That is up almost 20% from a similar survey in early May. The latest was conducted July 10 and surveyed 284 U.S. employees. 

Despite work burnout, the majority (59%) are taking less time off than they normally would, and 42% of those still working from home are not planning to take any time off to decompress.

"Although work from home may have offered you a break from the commute, office structure and your regular daily routine for the past few months, the mental break from work, as well as technology, is equally important," said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert.

Most people return to work from even a short amount of time off feeling more productive and refreshed.
Vicki Salemi
Monster career expert

On top of the stress of juggling work and your home life, including children stuck at home because of school and summer camp closures, there is financial anxiety.

While those working remotely still have a job, there is the threat that they, too, could lose their paycheck or have their salary cut at some point if the recession continues, said Melissa L. Whitson, a psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

"There is still that 'I need to work while I'm making money now and also to show that I am a good employee so they keep me on,'" Whitson said. "There is that added pressure onto it."

From near panic attacks to 'just tired'

Alana Acosta-Lahullier is still working from home full-time due to lack of child care, but is able to now access her office, if needed.
Source: Alana Acosta-Lahullier

For 41-year-old Alana Acosta-Lahullier, life was fraught with stress when the pandemic first hit and she was stuck home, working full time and helping school her two children. 

"I am constantly on the verge of a panic attack," Acosta-Lahullier said in May.

She works for an electrical contractor, and her husband works out of the home as a police officer.

While her employer is very understanding, she feels the need to get everything done correctly.

"I find myself working all the time, even when I should be getting ready for bed," Acosta-Lahullier said. "I feel an obligation to get everything done, even if it's to the detriment of my own mental health."

While her office has since reopened, Acosta-Lahullier, who lives in Parsippany, New Jersey, is still working remotely since they don't have child care for their 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.

"At this point I'm just tired," she said recently.

"My kids are beyond bored, and they miss their friends. I miss my friends," she added, noting that they still "haven't  really exited the bubble."

She's also worried about the school schedule in the fall, which has yet to be finalized. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has said schools can open their doors, perhaps on an alternating schedule for students to allow social distancing, as well as offer an all-remote learning option.

Summer relief but stress about the fall

David Hoffman and his son
Source: David Hoffman

David Hoffman, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and leads operations for a business unit of a large multinational company, is also still working from home, with "no end in sight." 

The 45-year-old spent the spring as the primary caregiver to his children, who are now heading into second, fourth and seventh grade. At the time, the stress caused him to get "really short and snap."

He also complained about the "depressing monotony" of trying to work and help his children with distance learning. His wife works a full-time job in health-care administration at a local hospital.

This summer, however, he's gotten some relief. He's hired a college student to watch the kids while he works. 

"It is tremendously better during the summer than when they were in school," Hoffman said. "We are desperately hoping that they stick with their plan to go back next month to physical school."

For now, his two younger children will attend class in person at their private school. The seventh-grader will be on an alternating schedule of in-school and virtual learning. However, Hoffman is concerned, given the rise in coronavirus cases in North Carolina. If all three children wind up home with some form of distant learning, "we are going to be right back where we were in the spring," he said. "It's just going to bring on all that pain again," he added. "It would be very stressful and very difficult."

If they wind up going all virtual again, he and his wife plan to move to Hawaii for a year, which is something they have been dreaming of and saving up for over the years. 

"It's been nice to have a little bit of reprieve, but there is no way we want to go back to that," he said. "So we are willing to take some pretty drastic actions to avoid it."

How to cope with WFH burnout

Everyone manifests stress differently, Whitson said.  You may be more angry or irritable, or you may appear to be more depressed or withdrawn. Be kind to yourself: Recognize and accept that you may be experiencing any of these symptoms. To help alleviate the stress, try to implement a routine and structure in your day-to-day life. "When you are always on, your system gets overwhelmed and exhausted," Whitson said.

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Also, taking time off from work can help thwart burnout and allow you to recharge. It doesn't even have to be a full vacation like you might have taken in the past; it can be more of a "staycation."  

"Most people return to work from even a short amount of time off feeling more productive and refreshed," Monster's Salemi said.

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Think about a socially-distanced picnic in the park, or even soaking up the sun in your backyard or at a nearby beach, she said. 

Lastly, don't be afraid to reach out for help from counselors or other support networks if you need it.

"We are all in this together," Whitson said. "It is helpful to know that other people are in the same boat. ... Just find out what works for you and, if it's not working, try something new. It is not a one-size-fits-all."

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