Chris Harley holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is passionate about improving the lives of others through his work. He has written extensively on mental health and its impact in the workplace. When he's not exploring the latest well-being practices, he enjoys reading and relaxing with his two cats!
Though many will tell you the Great Resignation originated in the shift to remote and hybrid working that occurred in 2020, we believe the reasons people started leaving their jobs en masse predate the COVID-19 outbreak and are rooted in the excessive expectations of employers, which lead professionals to become alienated from their work.
There is a clear link between burnout and the struggle for employee retention, and there are some things you can do to avoid this all-too-prevalent issue in your working life.
The Great Resignation: Moving With Labor Demands
The Great Resignation was first documented in May 2021, with the term being coined by Anthony Klotz, an organizational behavior professor at Texas A&M University. The Great Resignation is due to a drop in the employment rate and widespread concerns about job security. The number of resignations hit record lows in early 2020 but then spiked along with a surging demand for more labor.
The Great Resignation’s Link to Burnout
Broader economic factors are often cited as causes for the Great Resignation, but a general increase in employee burnout is also central to the trend of employees leaving their jobs.
Limeade, a leading provider of employee well-being software, ran a study in which 40 percent of employees surveyed in September 2021 cited burnout as a primary reason for resignation; more than a quarter of respondents (28 percent) were so dissatisfied with their employment that they left without another job lined up.
Although the global shift to remote work and other pandemic-era changes in working culture have been handled spectacularly well by some companies and professionals, in many situations both employers and employees have simply not had the tools to pivot successfully.
Employers Must Support Their Employees to Combat Burnout
While the pandemic presented new challenges for business, many in the global workforce began to work longer hours, have less time off, and experience a poorer work-life balance. The blurred line between work and home life has given people more flexibility to choose their working hours. Still, it’s also led to employers placing higher demands on their employees and normalizing overwork.
If left unchecked, burnout can generate a range of professional and personal issues for employees, including a drop in productivity, depression or anxiety, and other health and relationship problems. It’s not hard to see how these issues, when combined with the massive increase in labor demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has prompted employees to leave their jobs en masse.
To avoid an unmanageable turnover, employers must take proactive steps to make employee well-being a core part of their company culture, offer competitive rewards and career advancement, and ensure that managers aren’t meeting burnout with impulsive, punitive actions.
How to Prevent Burnout and Find Joy in a Remote Work Environment
If you’re feeling burnt out by your remote work environment or you’re thinking of leaving an office-based job to pursue life as a freelancer or entrepreneur, it’s important to consider the impact of burnout and how to combat it.
Here are some of the best ways to avoid burnout and maximize satisfaction as a remote worker.
Give Yourself a Break!
It may sound obvious, but planning periodic breaks from the pressures of your work is incredibly effective.
With the average morning commute being reduced from half an hour to a few minutes, some remote workers feel inclined to fill that extra time with more meetings and higher productivity. Initially, this may delight your bosses and make you feel like a badass; over time, however, this drive can lead to burnout.
Don’t get too caught up in hustle culture. Give yourself time to unplug and release some of that built-up stress. Open your calendar and set a rough plan for how you’ll space out your vacation time across the remainder of the year. You don’t have to go abroad to get away—just taking some time to enjoy local recreation spots can work wonders to relieve burnout. In fact, it’s been shown that spending just 20 to 30 minutes a day in nature can help reduce cortisol levels, making it easier to manage stress.
Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
One of the most important things you can do to avoid burnout is to create a clear separation between business hours and personal hours. Set a specific start time and end time to your working day, and don’t allow your life outside of those hours to be affected by last-minute phone calls, responses to emails, or the finishing touches on projects.
Whether you’re a permanent employee or a freelancer with a stable of demanding clients, it may help to add your working hours or a note about asynchronous communication to your email signature.
Take Active Steps to Maintain Social Connections
For many, one of the hardest adjustments to working remotely involves reduced social interaction, including the simple absence of routine conversations with colleagues and friends. A 2020 study by Sapien Labs, a behavioral science nonprofit, showed a strong correlation between people who have few regular interactions with others and those struggling with mental health issues.
Maintaining connections can be an easy way to prevent burnout and increase all-around satisfaction at work, but it does require a proactive approach. Meeting your friends and family for a quick lunch or coffee, joining in-person clubs and classes, or attending networking events can all be effective substitutes for the social connections that come with working in an office environment.
Burnout is a very pernicious phenomenon. It may have seeped in gradually for you over a long period of time, the result of a series of little decisions to take on more and more responsibility for high-value projects. Eventually, this can develop into an unhealthy level of stress.
Though it’s challenging to do so, actively adjusting the expectations of your managers, your peers, or your clients can be one of the most best ways to mitigate burnout in your working life. Take some time to identify the areas in which your workload is becoming too much, then use these benchmarks to contact the relevant people and set firm ground rules as to how much you’re realistically willing and able to take on.
You’ll likely get some pushback, especially from people who have a hyperbolic streak that can make them treat projects and tasks as a matter of emergency when they’re not. Just make sure all concerned parties know that you’re setting these limits to ensure your long-term productivity, protect your health, and make you a more potent professional. In other words, let them know how they benefit from your decision.
Combating Burnout for Long-Term Success
Once you gain some perspective on your own work situation and stress levels, it is possible to find a clear path toward a happier, healthier working life. Though burnout may not be a comfortable subject for everyone, putting your well-being first and setting firm boundaries for both yourself and your coworkers will make your stressors far more manageable and help you enjoy a far more satisfying professional life.