The comforts of working in our pajamas (nightwear) can only be experienced while working from home. But too much of a good thing can be stressful at times and, if not monitored adequately, can lead to Virtual Work Fatigue, popularly known as employee burnout. This concept was molded & coined according to the current lifestyle of employees” state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” which is now popularly known as Employee Burnout. It’s a state of mind that though it develops slowly and gradually, it’s common suffering in more than 52% of the employees after the 2020 pandemic (as per the survey study in April 2021). Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 defined “burnout” as “the extinction of motivation or devotion to a cause fails to produce the desired results.”

Employee burnout isn’t a new concept and has existed in every organization’s work system; the recent pandemic has had employees experience another level of burnout – which we are referring to as – Virtual Work Fatigue.

Typically, as per research, burnout can be categorized into the below five stages:

  1. Honeymoon Phase: When we undertake a new task, we often start by experiencing high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity …
  2. The onset of Stress: The second stage of burnout begins with an awareness of some days being more difficult than others …
  3. Chronic stress …
  4. Burnout …
  5. Habitual Burnout …

Drawing similar parallels in work from home scenario – at the onset, we enjoyed the ‘stay and work @ home’ situation, an opportunity to bond more with our family, use our time more effectively and relax whenever required. This was the Honeymoon phase, but like all good things, this too ended, pushing us to the 2nd phase, i.e., the onset of stress phase, which brought with it

  • Loss of motivation
  • Decreased satisfaction and
  • Poor sense of accomplishment.

But we soldiered on – because that is how we are built!

And soon, we entered the chronic stress phase, which brought with it,

  • Feeling of helplessness, feeling of being defeated and detached.
  • The increasingly cynical and negative outlook

Battling the new way of life, we soon found ourselves stepping towards the next phase called the burnout phase.

As per Forbes research, more than 69% of US adult citizens were found to be in a state of total burnout by the end of 2020 itself. Now shocking stats is that where 20% life span is reduced by obesity, drinking and smoking reduces it by 30% and 50% respectively, it is proven that feeling detached and lonely contributes to 70% reduction in the life span of an average human being.

The question here is, what might be the causes of this dreadful feeling of virtual work fatigue?

  • Issues that could be quickly resolved required more time due to lack of physical proximity.
  • Work pressure increased exponentially due to timelines bursting because of dependency on network coverage and bandwidth.
  • Employees went on medical leaves due to COVID – increasing the workload on the available work.
  • Simple decisions, which could usually be made across the table, now needed additional planning, availability checks of all the stakeholders, and the inability to gauge reactions as most calls are voice calls.

According to a 2018 report by Gallup, causes for work fatigue causes are simple:

  • Unreasonable time pressure
  • Lack of communication and support from a manager
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Unfair treatment

Here is a list of signs to watch out for and identify if a co-worker or employee is feeling the virtual work fatigue –

  • Feeling alienated from work-related activities
  • Physical symptoms like headaches etc. caused due to work stress and tensions
  • Emotional exhaustion causing feelings of being drained, unable to cope & lack of energy
  • Reduced performance (quite self-explanatory!)
  • Decision laziness
  • Restlessness or continuous insomnia

More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout!

While burnout is not a diagnosable psychological disorder, that does not mean it should not be taken seriously. After all, it shares similar symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression!

Key to remedy burnout:

World health organization’s study tracked few fortune 100 companies are working to implement employee well-being strategies to tackle employee’s work fatigue, taking an example of Gamification at NICE Ltd, where an employee asked to relax and play games for a day after submitting a particularly long project.

Taking inspiration from Maestro health’s idea of senior managers checking out the worthiness of the client’s project and the deadline by mandatorily questioning clients “is, it urgent,” “can this be taken tomorrow morning,” “is it that valuable to disturb my employee’s time.” Thus, the rise of “blood, fire and how much” is the rise of the strategy”! (CLICK HERE to read more)

While employees are taking steps towards maintaining a healthy work-life balance, it isn’t necessary to say that organizations can also learn from peer organizations to help employees fight virtual work fatigue.

Encouraging employees to leave early or giving an additional day off could help restore the balance and be viewed as a sign of putting employees’ mental health over the business by the employees. Additionally, recognize the need to conduct and promote employee counseling to help employees better manage stress and work-related fatigues.

Nothing at this point can or should be of top priority for organizations to focus on than accepting, recognizing, and working towards a stress-free and well-balanced work life for employees.

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