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Remote working burnout: What should managers watch for?

Posted by Shivali Anand

December 27, 2021    |     4-minute read (729 words)

It's been nearly two years since the pandemic pushed many employees to begin working remotely, and the novelty is long gone.  In a September 2021 survey by the Conference Board, over 75% of 1,800 U.S.-based workers said burnout and stress were significant challenges to their well-being in the workplace. This is an increase of 20% from only six months earlier.

Managers should get familiar with the signs that point to burnout, which is defined by the World Health Organization as feelings of fatigue or energy depletion, negative feelings about one's job and impaired professional efficacy due to prolonged workplace stress. 

Burnout symptoms

While remote work has some advantages, it is not without drawbacks. Employees who like to keep their professional and personal lives separate may find it particularly challenging to work remotely. Many people miss the social aspect of work, such as venting about work and life, or just going out to lunch. 

Meanwhile, working parents have taken on more obligations during the pandemic, to their children being home due to the intermittent closures of child care centers, schools and colleges. For many remote workers, life has fallen into a loop of interruptions, and their mental health can buckle as a result.

Here are eight signs of burnout to watch for:
  • Appearing exhausted, unproductive or nervous during meetings or interactions.
  • Noncommunicative with co-workers, leading to misunderstandings and animosity.
  • Procrastinating or avoiding work altogether.
  • Unable to receive or make phone or video calls.
  • Always late and/or unresponsive during meetings.
  • Deteriorating productivity and work quality.
  • Taking responsibility for others' errors.
  • Lack of price in their accomplishments.

Preventing burnout among remote workers

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the warning symptoms of burnout, it’s important to learn how to mitigate it. You can establish a work culture that encourages well-being and minimizes the risk of burnout by considering the seven strategies below.

  1. Support flexible scheduling
Employees who have more flexibility throughout the workplace can better manage their days and balance personal and professional obligations. "Offering flexible scheduling to employees can have a dramatic impact on reducing burnout, since rigid work schedules usually magnify conflict between work and family, leading workers to mental exhaustion," said Carol Cochran, VP of People and Culture at FlexJobs. 

  1. Support time off
Encourage workers to take vacations with their paid time off for vacation, and give them time off to enhance their mental health. This can help employees better manage their stress levels.

  1. Provide mental health awareness days
Self-care and a healthy work-life balance can help prevent remote job burnout from occurring in the first place, Cochran said. Managers should aim to develop a work culture in which people are valued as individuals and in which the wellness of staff is prioritized, she added.

  1. Maintain consistent communication
Remote work isn't the same as working in an office, so be patient with co-workers. Employees are managing a work environment that the company no longer has control over. In contrast to the office, where everyone's conditions are the same, each individual will have unique conditions and challenges.

Increase electronic communication inside the organization, such as newsletters, new employee announcements and team updates, and be sure to incorporate company performance and messages from leaders.

  1. Support collaboration through technology
Companies should enhance their communication tools and tech to allow staff to collaborate more successfully when working from home. This can be attained by:

  • Assisting with technical and hardware issues so that video call platforms are successful.
  • Consider subsidizing Wi-Fi access.
  • Offer ergonomic office equipment for at-home work.
  • If feasible, set up a dedicated tech support line.
  • Establish remote collaboration forums, like video social hours, games and team challenges.
  • Create a tech equipment lending program for employees who don't own laptops or cameras, etc.
  1. Manage performance
Managers can examine team goals to see if any adjustments are required. You can also oversee the performance of your team by:

  • Establishing designated online availability hours, and sharing them team-wide.
  • Setting aside time for remote check-ins.
  • Allowing employees to express concerns.
  • Creating new training courses for employee access.
  1. Instill confidence
"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,” psychologist Melissa L. Whitson said. As individuals are concerned about employment during the pandemic, businesses must reassure their employees that they can trust them. 

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