5 Stages of Burnout While Working From Home

In a traditional work environment, there is a clear distinction between work and your personal life, enabling people to separate the two and relax in their home environment. However, with more people now working from home than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to switch off from work when they have finished for the day. This difficulty means more people are experiencing burnout while working from home. 

In a study by Capterra, 54% of respondents said that stress increased when working from home due to there being no separation between work and personal life.

This article will define the five stages of burnout and what you can do to avoid it.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Burnout can be caused by anything that makes a person feel exhausted or overwhelmed. 

The term ‘burnout’ was first coined by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, who defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause of relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Burnout can affect anyone at any stage of their career. A 2020 Micro Biz Mag study found that of 1,000 adults surveyed in the UK, 22% have experienced job-related burnout. Business owner burnout is particularly common, especially in the early stages of a startup. Small business owners might feel like they need to work long hours to ensure their business gets off to a great start. However, this level of overworking can contribute to burnout and have the opposite effect.

What are the 5 stages of burnout at work?

While burnout can be caused by several factors, and each person’s experience is different, there are generally five stages a person will go through before they experience burnout. 

Honeymoon Phase

The first stage of burnout is often experienced when a person starts a new job. With high levels of enthusiasm and commitment, driven employees will use their energy, ambition and desire to succeed to push through the demands and challenges of a new role. 

Many people are also keen to impress at this stage, which means they will go above and beyond to show their capabilities. However, this can eventually lead to stress as a person undertakes more taxing tasks. 

The employee and their manager need to implement positive coping mechanisms, like ensuring they feel part of a team, especially when working from home. By finding methods for coping with stress, they could remain in the honeymoon phase without progressing onto burnout. 

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The onset of Stress (Balancing Act)

After the honeymoon phase, people may start to experience the onset of stress. This is also known as the balancing act, where people feel like they’re juggling several tasks. 

Stress is prevalent in any job and industry, but if you don’t learn to manage stress early on, it can lead to burnout and severely impact your professional and personal life. Some industries experience more stress than others, including government, telecoms, media and marketing. However, this doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. 

Once the excitement of a new job has started to disappear, people may begin to notice aspects of their job they dislike. This might manifest itself as days that feel more stressful or decreased levels of optimism. 

There are several signs associated with the onset of stress, including fatigue, work inefficiency, job dissatisfaction or avoidance of certain tasks. Occasionally, a person might also experience sleep disturbances or neglect of personal needs. Team leaders should look out for early signs of stress so they can provide additional support.

Chronic Stress

The chronic stress stage of burnout closely follows the onset of stress, with many of the same symptoms appearing or continuing. However, they are usually more intense and can accompany more physical symptoms. 

Chronic exhaustion is a tell-tale sign, as well as stress-induced physical illness, anger and depression. There is usually a marked change in a person’s mental health, with a lack of motivation and stress taking centre stage.

Burnout (Crisis Stage)

Every person has a breaking point, and this is especially true when it comes to stress and burnout. Once a person has been through the chronic stress stage, it’s only a matter of time before they enter the crisis stage. 

The signs of burnout are much more physical than the symptoms of the other stages. People experiencing burnout will often feel empty, separated from their life and as though they have lost control. It’s difficult for them to continue with any form of normality, so it’s crucial to seek intervention. 

Habitual Stress (Enmeshment)

When someone has experienced burnout and has not sought professional help, they might move into the habitual stress stage. This is when a person has taken on so many burnout symptoms that they have become embedded in their life. 

People with habitual burnout may not fully realise they have it and will usually be at greater risk of developing chronic long term illnesses. Employers and managers need to recognise when a person is experiencing professional burnout. This can be particularly difficult if remote work is a large part of your organisation’s culture, so ensure you schedule plenty of video calls and informal catch-ups with your team to look for signs.

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How to avoid work from home burnout

With an increase of remote workers and home offices, the lines of the workplace feel more blurred. More people are working long hours because they don’t have a commute, and some are even working weekends because they find it difficult to switch off. A study by TOG recently found that 51% of respondents had been working outside of their typical working hours since lockdown and working from home.  

It’s more important than ever to learn coping mechanisms that can help to avoid burnout. Some things you can do to avoid work from home burnout include:

  • Create a dedicated working space and ensure you only use this area for work
  • Don’t travel around the house with your laptop, as this can make traditionally relaxing spaces feel like working areas
  • Take regular breaks
  • Structure your day like you would in the office - leave your desk for screen breaks, have lunch away from your desk and finish on time
  • Remember to take your annual leave
  • Maintain face-to-face contact by popping into the office if you can, meeting colleagues socially, or using a flexible office space
  • Connect with your colleagues via video calls - a Lifesize study found that 89% of users said video conferencing with their teams helped them feel more connected
  • Ensure you get enough sleep by minimising screen time and social media. You could also do something relaxing before bed like meditation, crafting or reading
  • Get fresh air and break up the day by going for a walk at lunchtime
  • Ask for help when you need it 
  • Look out for the symptoms of burnout and put coping mechanisms in place

Burnout could affect anyone at any time, no matter what your role is. Therefore, it’s important to do everything you can to ensure no one in your organisation feels exhausted with work. Establishing a remote work culture is a good place to start as it ensures your home-workers feel as much a part of the team as they did in the office.

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Rovva puts everything you need for your business in one place. From an accountancy helpline to a drop-in business lounge - we've got everything covered.