Burnout caused by hybrid work

By Carli Uys

Head of Marketing, Research and Development (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

Most of us have heard about burnout and know someone who has had burn out. We believe that it only happens to others. Then one day you realise that you are getting unnaturally tired, despite not doing that much. Your brain becomes foggy, and you do not know why. You try to sleep more, drink more coffee, take energy supplements, but nothing works. Then it hits you, you are on burn out. You realise that the combination of your work life and personal life is causing you more stress than usual particularly now that you are working from home more often. You stress that you are not performing well enough and that your leader might not give you the performance review that you feel you deserve. You stress about the fact that you work longer hours and not spending enough time with your family.

Excessive stress leads to burnout, but there is a difference between stress and burnout. Stress involves situations where everything feels too much, such as too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. When you are stressed, you can still see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel that everything will be under control soon. However, when a person has burnout, they have a feeling of emptiness and feel mentally exhausted, have a lack of motivation and just don’t feel like they care anymore. People with burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their current situation. Excessive stress makes you feel like you are drowning in responsibilities, where burnout is a sense of being all dried up.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As your stress continues, you begin to lose interest in the things you loved doing and you lose motivation that pushed you to take on a certain role. Job burnout is defined as a special type of work-related stress. This is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishments and loss of personal identity.

Job burnout symptoms:

Ask yourself:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

Organisations should focus on decreasing burnout in their employees as they are working longer hours and having less time for their personal lives. Research has indicated that 40% of hybrid employees report an increase in the length of their workdays in the past 12 months. It is crucial for organisations who want to retain their employees in a complex job market to focus on reducing burnout as the complex job market will only grow more competitive in the coming months.

Hybrid work models can be one-way organisations can reduce employee burnout if these models are implemented correctly. Employees appear to favour flexible remote work options as many employees are taking advantage of the deep work and focus they can achieve at home as well as the social connection and in-person collaboration at the office. However, Gartner research revealed that 96% of HR leaders are increasingly concerned about employee well-being in a hybrid work model. 93% of the HR leaders are especially concerned about employee burnout. Gartner research also found that hybrid employees who spend more time in one-on-one meetings with their peers are 1.37 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work.

5 stages of burnout:

Several features that are native to the hybrid work environment are driving employee fatigue and putting employee well-being at risk. Employees are facing three key factors while working in a hybrid environment:

  1. Digital distractions: Employees who work in a hybrid work environment are 2.54 times more likely to experience digital distractions than employees who work from the office. Digital distractions stem from a natural increase in being online all the time when working remotely. This puts employees’ ability to do deep focus work in jeopardy.
  2. Virtual overload: Employees who work in a hybrid work environment are 1.12 times more like to feel as if they are working too hard at their jobs than employees who work from the office. Too many virtual interactions can also cause fatigue. Organisations feel the need to compensate for their workforce working remotely by encouraging an increase in their virtual interactions. Virtual interactions have shown to present their own set of difficulties for employees. During virtual interactions, individuals find it harder to read body language and visual cues and turning off the camera can make it easier for people to disconnect from the current moment.
  3. Always-on: Employees who work in a hybrid work environment are 1.27 times more likely to struggle to disconnect from work than employees who work in the office. Employees find it difficult to set clear boundaries between their work and personal life when working remotely. This is due to the absence of signals that tell them when to start and stop working, like the traditional commute to the office or a formal dress code. Employees are struggling to find a balance between when and how to switch off at the end of each workday.

Digital burnout is a specific type of burnout that is triggered by prolonged and excessive use of digital devices. Working from home is having a massive impact on employee burnout and digital burnout as well.

Best ways to deal with digital burnout caused by hybrid work:

Ways to avoid burnout caused by hybrid work:

Always focus on your well-being. Find healthy ways that work for you to be able to be productive from home and remember to talk about your feelings to others so they understand what you are going through and how to help you cope.