Work-from-home burnout in the pandemic can lead to serious mental health issues and lost productivity. Leaders can help their team members by identifying the root causes and making a strategic shift to a virtual work culture. That’s the key take-away message of this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show, which describes why work-from-home burnout and zoom fatigue are a lot more complex than you think.
Video: “Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue is a Lot More Complex Than You Think”
Podcast: “Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue is a Lot More Complex Than You Think”
Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast
- Here’s the article: Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue is a Lot More Complex Than You Think
- The book Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters is available here
- The book Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic is available here
- You are welcome to register for the free Wise Decision Maker Course
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show where we help you make the wisest and most profitable decisions. And today, what I’d like to talk to you about is work from home burnout, you’ve probably heard a lot about work from home burnout during the pandemic, it’s not an easy issue, and it’s something that a lot of people have been struggling with. And of course, zoom fatigue is a related issue where people feel fatigued and drained from doing zoom, conferences, meetings, and other sorts of video conference activities. Now, you might be surprised to find out that work from home burnout and zoom fatigue, are a lot more complex than people generally think they are. So I want to talk about in this episode of the show about specifically how complex they are, because you need to understand the causes of work from home burnout and zoom fatigue, in order to take any steps to address them. So let’s talk about the causes so that you can understand them. And then with an understanding of them, that will really help you address work from home burnout and zoom fatigue. Now, thinking about work from home burnout, zoom fatigue, we have to go to the very beginning of the lockdowns in the US in early March. And of course, around the globe, you know, earlier they happened in China and so on. In February, they happened in Italy. In March, they happened in us and in other highly developed countries and Europe in the North Americas. And what happened was, there was an abrupt shift, it was very abrupt companies, unfortunately, did not really do a good job, the large majority of companies, not all of them, Dropbox and Google, and Twitter did a better job than others in forecasting the problem with a pandemic and having a slower shift to working from home, where they had more of a couple of weeks to do this. But the large majority of companies that do not forecast how abrupt and problematic the pandemic would be, despite warnings from me and a number of other risk management forecasting, future proofing experts. And so they may have to make a very abrupt transition to working from home. And once they made the strictly abrupt transition, which was very disruptive and lots of problems, lots of challenges. Not going to go into the details of that. There’s another episode I have on those topics, they actually found that working from home has a number of benefits that they didn’t consider, they thought that working from home would be much more difficult, you know, there was only something like 4% of the US workforce, for example, was working from home. And employers were pretty skeptical that work from home can be widely used. But once they had to do it, they found out that it was actually quite effective, there was actually heightened productivity not lowered productivity, they found that people were more productive as a result of working from home after getting over some of the initial hurdles. So that was definitely a benefit for them. And of course, people didn’t have to do the commute that also really helps in productivity. So there’s lots of benefits in working from home. And if you can keep working from home, you can keep employees out of the office and greatly shrink your footprint. And that will cause the year that will save you a lot of save costs. So that’s great to employers, we like that. Because you don’t have to have all the real estate that you’re currently doing can even go completely remodeled. Or you can just keep, you know, 10% of your real estate for various necessary functions, accepting documents, having occasional in office meetings, of course, I’m talking about after the pandemic once it’s safe. However, there is a serious problem which is growing burnout. burnout is a serious, problematic issue due to working from home soon fatigue. And so companies have been finding that a few months into the pandemic, people have been increasingly complaining about work life balance, burnout issues, and it’s getting more and more problematic. So working from home burnout, zoom fatigue is just an issue, even separately from the pandemic needs to understand and address work from home burnout and zoom fatigue, if you want to effectively have employees work from home regardless of the pandemic of fire for after the pandemic, if you want to keep that happening. So that’s something that really needs to be addressed. And that problem would work from home. burnout and zoom fatigue is an adaptation of existing office culture to remote work. You probably might not have thought about that. But really, once we transitioned to a job transition, what happened was that companies adapted their existing ways of being in Office culture, to the way that they functioned in remote work and work from home. Now, that’s fine for an emergency, once, one week, two weeks, but not in the long term, our company is focused on and shifting during the transition to working from home. And this is crucial, what they really focused on what leaders really focused on was getting the necessary tasks of the organization done, whatever you’re doing, whatever products you’re making, whatever services you’re making, you want to get those necessary tasks done. And that’s what they figured out that’s been a high productivity and all those things, that’s great, you’re getting the tasks done. Good, you’re that that’s good, right, that’s what you want. You’re getting those tasks done. However, they left behind in the office as part of the office culture, the social and emotional glue, that truly Bond’s people together, that culture, the office culture, where people feel connected, they feel loyal, they feel energized. That’s the social and emotional glue of community belonging and connection they left behind. Because they didn’t really focus on that, understandably, they focused in that emergency quick shift, and that the abrupt shift and getting the emergency tasks done. And so that’s when they adapted their existing office culture to remote work, they hope the social and emotional glue would carry over. But it doesn’t really do so very well. So that is a huge, huge underlying cause of what’s been going on. And so it’s not as simple as simply, you know, work from home burnout and thinking about it, as you know, zoom fatigue or something like that, it’s not as simple as that. It’s much more complex, you have to understand the causes. And you have to understand how we function as human beings, some of the things that make us function effectively as human beings, in professional settings, in order to address effectively work from home burnout and zoom fatigue. And that’s something that’s not really understood very well, because you have to understand how our brain functions, you have to understand the cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics, psychology, all this behavioral science stuff. Most people aren’t really experts in they naturally, we naturally make things work in office settings, because we are interacting in person. And that is a natural way that humans have evolved to interact. Now our natural interactions when you think about them, how do we interact in the office, we interact as a group as a small group. And that has to do with how we evolved as human beings, what our brains are wired for, we are not evolved for the modern environment. That’s not what we evolved for. The modern environment with the Internet, and so on has really been around since the 1990s. Right? we haven’t had time to evolve for that we are evolved, actually, our gut reactions, our intuitions, our emotions, the way we interact with each other naturally, are actually evolved for the savanna environment, when we were hunters and gatherers living in small tribes of 15 people, 250 people. And so, especially in those small nuclear teams, that we have teams of six to eight people, that’s what the typical team is six to eight people, you know, it grows and it grows less and less manageable. After eight people, you definitely wouldn’t want to go over eight, definitely going to want to go over 10. But ideally, you don’t want to go over eight and six, four to six is the Goldilocks zone of the ideal number of team members. So that’s kind of a small nuclear unit. And then the larger organization, your division, your department, you know, 15 to 150 people, and then your interactions with the larger organization if you’re in a larger organization. And that’s natural for us in the office environment. We are evolved for that. It is naturally that community, that team, that tribe holds that social and emotional glue together. But that doesn’t naturally happen in the office in virtual activities. That just doesn’t happen. That’s not what they’re about. And organizations have not really figured that out. They have not looked at this strategically, they have not looked at the science of this. They have not looked at the best practices on this question. They just tried to use operational tactics to address how problems related to work from home burnout and zoom fatigue. Now they try to okay address this is the tactic that we’re going to try to address us to address this problem. That does not work well. Unfortunately, those operational tactics because what you need to do is have a strategic approach, you need to strategically shift to viewing work from home as a new normal, and as you shift to that, seeing it as a new normal. That’s when you can make an effective difference and actually address the problem. Problems leading to work from home burnout and zoom fatigue. Otherwise, you’re just forcing a square peg into a round hole. If you’re trying to use the traditional previous natural, the natural transition, the abrupt transition of office culture which you adapted to remote work to working from home, that’s you’re forcing that square peg into a round hole. And you’re just going to, you know, you couldn’t make it work. If you force it hard enough, which the vast majority of companies did, they made it work. But they broke off the corners of the square peg, which is in this metaphor, the social and emotional glue that holds our office culture together that holds teams together, tribes, communities, so that’s been broken off, unfortunately, and you know what you’re forcing, forcing that square peg in with the broken off corners into the round hole. And that’s going to hold for a while, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective and it’s going to be wobbly, and eventually it’s going to break off, people are going to burn out. That’s not something you want to do. So to address this problem, you need to first understand the variety of causes leading to work from home burnout. And the first I want to highlight is that we are deprived of that basic human need for meaningful purpose fulfillment. That’s something that has been really taken away from us when we move from office environments, to working from home environments. Now, when you work from home, you don’t get those narratives, that sense of self, that sense of identity that’s tied to the workplace. People feel there’s extensive research on this and feel connected and fulfilled and have a sense of meaning and purpose, from their work to some more than others. But there’s definitely a general tendency where we feel a sense of on average, if we care about our workplace, we feel fulfilled, we feel a sense of meaning from how we work with a sense of purpose, from our work. And it’s tied to those patterns that we have in the workplace, and the actual physical space. And more than that the community that we have with each other in the workplace. And so when we shifted abruptly to working from home, that’s all been severely disrupted, all been severely disrupted by the shift to virtual work. So that’s one of the problems. One of the 12 problems that I’ll talk about, in this episode that you need to address. If you want to address work from home burnout and zoom fatigue, because that sense of human being and purpose, that sense of fulfillment is protective against work from home burnout, it helps protect us against burnout. And so we don’t have that protection nearly as much anymore, we’re not nearly as fulfilled, don’t have nearly as much meaning and purpose. And so we don’t have that protection against burnout. The second problem, we have a basic fundamental need for connection for that tribalism for that connection of two other human beings. And we get a lot of that from work. That’s our work community, our work tribe, it helps us get our need for connection, met and fulfilled. Now work from home unfortunately, cuts us off from that in person, tribal community in in the savanna environment, there was nothing like zoom calm video conferences, or email exchanges, or text exchanges, or, or slack or Trello, or Microsoft Teams, whatever you’re using, do go to Asana, Mondays, whatever you’re using to connect with each other. As work collaboration software, the natural connection came from that tribal environment, you see each other, you connect with each other. And so we’re not wired to feel connected by video conference by we be seeing people in little squares, in that zoom video conference or whatever technology or using Microsoft Teams video conference, you know, Skype, whatever you’re using, we’re not wired to be connected by those sorts of GoToMeeting. That’s not something that’s connecting to us naturally, intuitively. So we’re not wired to be connected by FaceTime just because we don’t do it. And not to mention that the many more interactions between us happened by email happened within those collaborations, software’s that I mentioned, like Microsoft Teams and Asana, and so on. And those are even less connecting than video conferences. So that is a big, big problem that we don’t get our need for connection met. And of course, that connection is protective against burnout, we feel connected, we feel fulfilled, and that helps protect us against burnout. So we don’t have nearly as much of a sense of connection and so don’t have nearly as much protection against burnout. The third problem out of 12 is that we are deprived of building trust, that trust setting, the trust is natural. When we interact in office, in the office setting you chat with each other, you build relationships with your fellow human beings, your fellow co workers, members of your team, you meet in the break room, as you’re both getting some coffee, some tea, whatever, having lunch, you chat with each other about your kids about what’s going on, for what are your plans for the weekend, about the local sports teams and having fun and what whatever things what’s new in your life, right. And so that’s natural, that’s intuitive for us to build that interaction, just like it was for our ancestors in the tribal environment, when they talked about various things that were important to them, you know, what kind of mammals that they hunt recently, or something like that. So that builds trust that helps us see each other as human beings. And it helps us feel connected to each other and trusting each other. Of course, that doesn’t happen within virtual settings, it’s much, much harder to do that sort of connection to do that sort of interaction, that trust building activity. When you’re in virtual settings, it’s certainly completely unnatural in the collaboration software, those Microsoft Teams, Trello, and so on. And honestly, in video conference meetings, it is just much harder to connect with each other. And chatter just doesn’t feel nearly as naturally they’ll have, of course, all those informal interactions where you meet in the office and the hallway, and so on. So that trust, of course, is protective against burnout, that sense of connection, that sense of trust, where you trust each other, it helps protect against burnout, and it helps protect against Team conflict, which happens much more because you don’t have trust it or you don’t have a building of trust, you have less trust, and that team conflict also causes more burnout as you can imagine. Now, problem four, there’s a deprivation of informal and formal mentoring, and informal professional development. So what does that mean? What am I referring to? I mean, you might have a formal mentoring program, but it’s much harder to do in the form of working from home when people aren’t used to it and are not as connected. But it’s also there that informal mentoring that people get from, given to each other, for especially senior colleagues to provide to junior colleagues in the workplace. It’s critical for that learning in the workplace at mentoring from senior colleagues, formal and informal, where they tell you how to do things. And of course, I’m talking more about junior colleagues here in terms of professional development, people who are not as experienced in a certain job in a certain professional, certain career. And that doesn’t necessarily apply only to people who are freshmen in college, it might apply to people who are fresh in a new job and the new role, it might apply to people who are switching. So there’s that mentoring from senior colleagues, more experienced ones in this role in this activity. And there’s also professional development in formal professional development, where you observe your colleagues, you know, sales professionals, observing hearing each other on the phone with outbound calls and inbound calls. You just see what other people are doing in meetings, and so on. So being able to see those things to see your interactions with others, your seniors call your colleagues interacting with each other, helps you learn how to do things, and not having that learning, that definitely contributes to burnout, because you’re not as confident, not as productive, not as effective. And that causes a lot of problems. Problem five out of 12. It’s not simply zoom fatigue. Now you think about zoom fatigue, it’s a widely phrased term use term where again, drain due to video conference meetings. Now, it’s not that zoom fatigue doesn’t exist. I’m not saying it’s not a real phenomenon. It’s a real experience, but it’s not due to zoom itself. What other video conference software, what happens is, our emotions, our intuitions or reactions, gut reactions, they intuitively we expect to feel connected just like we would in a work meeting in a professional meeting, or in a one to one, whether it’s a professional meeting, team meeting of a whole team for something like that, or a one on one meeting with a colleague, we intuitively expect to feel connected. But our emotions don’t process the video conference software nearly as well as we would in a real meeting. We don’t feel nearly as connected to the other person, whether it’s a one one or two the other people if it’s a team meeting, and so we’re left feeling disappointed and drained, disconnected, disillusioned, that experience contrary Have you that experience is what we call zoom fatigue. And that experience contributes to burnout. A related problem is that we’re forcing a square peg into a round hole. When we’re trying to use Office style connecting activities like zoom, happy hours, to virtually interact with each other. What is happening was part of that office culture, when you brought that office culture into remote work. What companies and other organizations overwhelmingly did is they transposed in person events, like happy hours, and various other bonding events into virtual formats. And that this doesn’t work well, unfortunately, just doesn’t work well, because of our expectations, our gut intuitions expect to feel connected, they expect to feel satisfied, and it’s inevitably disappointing. It doesn’t meet their needs. So I mean, think about zoom happy hours, right? How are you going to have that chat with a colleague, where you go off in the corner and chat and catch up and so on during a zoom happy hour, you’re not going to do that, it’s, and that’s just one example. And that builds that up. So you’re not able to do lots of activities that you would otherwise. And that builds up on top of the fact that your small squares in a screen and you can’t really see effectively each other, you can’t effectively connect with each other, you don’t feel a tribal connection, so you don’t feel as satisfied and fulfilled. Now, those problems are depravations. There’s also lack of skill problems, lots of folks lack skills and virtual work acknowledged and they’re kind of embarrassed, especially senior experienced people, they’re kind of embarrassed to admit that they don’t know some technology aspects of things. And that causes lower productivity, of course, where they don’t acknowledge that there are some functions of zoom that they’re not familiar with. Or though collaboration software, Trello, Microsoft Teams, all of these activities, they might not know a lot of the technology that they should, these kind of back ends operational issues with the technology, they’re not don’t have as much digital literacy, as they ideally would. And that causes definitely lower productivity problems, lower productivity of all sorts, and a frustrating experience with colleagues with whom they need to collaborate. And that, of course, leads to burnout, where you’re using tools, you’re frustrated with them, companies may not be giving you training, you may not be aware of what you don’t know, and you feel frustrated, because you don’t know these things. And so this is definitely a challenge, especially for more experienced, senior folks who may not be as digitally literate, so that causes more burnout. Now, another problem is that we lack skills in effective virtual communication. Virtual communication is hard. Real communication, that’s not fair. In person. Communication is hard, of course. So it’s hard to effectively communicate in person, right? There’s a reason that before the pandemic communication trainers got tons of money, communication professionals got tons of money to help people communicate effectively, it’s hard to communicate in person already. And so it becomes quite a bit harder when you’re moving to virtual teams. So that’s a big problem that needs to be addressed. Now, we also lack skills in effective virtual collaboration. Virtual collaboration is related to virtual communication with virtual communication. Lots of people don’t know how to do various things on zoom to make themselves more effective. For example, eye contact, when you’re on zoom, lots of people put their cameras on the side. And they’re looking at the screen, the cameras looking at them on the side, it looks like they’re not paying attention. It looks like they’re not connecting with you. Even those who do put their cameras in front of them. They often zoom, when they’re speaking, when they’re doing presenting or any speaking of any sort, they are not looking at the camera, they’re looking at other people who are on the screen in front of them. So it looks like they’re not making eye contact. And that’s really challenging for when you’re trying to influence people when you’re speaking, you’re trying to influence people. That is a big problem for your effectiveness and communicating. And that’s a big problem for your effectiveness in collaborating virtually when you’re trying to collaborate with your team. That is really difficult. So communication is one problem. And another big problem is there’s lack of a causal interaction, where you meet with each other in the hallway and you chat and address a problem that you have where you want to address an issue or even notice an issue. It’s harder to notice things. It’s natural in the office, to have that in interaction where you casually after a meeting, maybe you want to address something it’s natural to do so in the office, it’s much less natural in virtual settings to do that, to have casual interactions of various sorts that solve a lot of problems. Now, not only that, you also are not able to see other people’s body language and not hear other people’s tell nearly as well. Of course, when you’re in small squares on the screen, a lot of body language is hidden, you can only see the face. And it’s you know, sometimes with bad lighting and bad the microphones, which a lot of people have, unfortunately, you are not able to notice tone, shallow things changes in tone that indicate conflicts, tensions, anxieties, you’re not able to see body language, you can only see the face and not very clearly. And again, that’s a problem. And now that’s only that’s in video conferences. That’s the best best case scenario. Lots of interactions, most of the interactions don’t happen in video conferences, they happen in collaboration, software, Trello, whatever Microsoft Teams, and that makes it even harder to notice conflicts, it’s very hard to do so. And that causes a lot of challenges that contribute to burnout. Another problem, there’s a lack of not simply skills, but a lack of accountability. in office environments, allow easy accountability, form leaders and from peers alike. If you’re a leader, you can walk around and see who looks disengaged, who looks apathetic, who looks anxious, who looks in like they’re there’s some sort of problem and you can check in with them quickly on certain issues, and see what’s going on and address them or during a meeting when they seem disengaged or something like that body language body down during a meeting. Similarly, as appears, you can pop into an office and say, Hey, Mary, where’s that report that you will, we’re going to get to me yesterday. So if somebody pops into your office, it’s much harder to ignore them than it is to ignore a message on slack. Right? So that is, in those virtual environments, leaders find it much harder to notice, accountability issues where people are not being accountable, and hold them accountable. And peers have a much more difficulty holding their peers accountable. Another issue that I already alluded to a little bit before is poor work from home environments. That’s a big problem that causes burnout for people, many lack things like quiet spaces, I mean, how often is a meeting disrupted by pets of family members, especially kids, or loud noises of some sort, or other people lack quiet spaces. I mean, maybe how many people had more than a year into the pandemic are working from their kitchen tables, way too many people lack quiet spaces. A lot of people lack a stable internet. I mean, this is a problem where they don’t have a stable internet, there’s a lot of video conference meetings where somebody goes in and out, because they don’t have stable internet access. And that’s a big problem. And a lot of folks don’t have resources for good equipment. Many don’t even know what good equipment means. I have. I mean, as a color consultant, and coach and trainer, I often present a consultant coach for executives, and especially in training, you know, women’s consulting and coaching, I can bring this up. But in a training session, when one of the executives in the training has a poor microphone or poor lighting, poor video, it’s not really something I can bring up, it’s not a relevant topic that would not be appropriate for me to bring it up. But you know, when I can only hear 1/3 of what somebody is saying who is a prominent executive, that’s not great. That makes it much harder for that executive to engage with their subordinates to engage with their peers and to engage with higher executives. And they just don’t bring it up to your peers, your subordinates, higher up executives. It’s not something that they bring up easily, because you know, they don’t, it would be awkward to bring up. And a lot of people don’t realize that having a not sufficiently quality microphone is a problem. not sufficiently quality lighting video is a problem and various other problems with their laptops, and so on. They don’t have good equipment, they might not be aware that they need better equipment, and many simply don’t have the money easily available, especially with the financial challenges of the pandemic for good equipment. And the last problem out of 12 that causes burnout is work life balance. So work life balance boundaries, specifically, not simply just work life balance manually, there’s unfortunately way too many leaders expect subordinates to work after hours. And they deny them requests for flexibility there will study, for example, in the UK, published in late February 2021, that showed that about 70 requests from foreign women for flexibility were denied of various sorts. And that’s a big problem, various sorts of issues, with some flexibility not being given, but especially problematic, is expecting subordinates to work after hours, answer messages, collaborate duty meetings of various sorts, some employees do so work after hours on their own initiative, because they’re scared of being fired in the pandemic. This is a tough, challenging environment, and lots of folks are worried about their future. And so they’re not doing things that would protect themselves that would predict them in the long run. And they’re working more of their own initiative. So the long term consequences of the expectations placed on subordinates to work after hours, the lack of allowance for flexibility when employees ask for flexibility, and have employees themselves working longer on their own initiative, and lacking those work life boundaries is profound. There’s definitely lower productivity, extensive research showing that it’s lower productivity in the long run, even though it might look like you have higher productivity in the short run. It’s kind of like sleep deprivation, it when you are going on four hours of sleep six hours of sleep, instead of the eight hours of sleep on average, that everyone should be getting, you know, the research suggests adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep. And you definitely don’t want to get less, on average, most people, including most likely you should be getting eight hours of sleep with some variance, you should not be getting less than seven hours of sleep in any regular way. And especially less than six hours of sleep. But there are some people who go four to six hours. And they say I’m fine, I feel good, I’m doing great, I’m productive. And they’re indeed working well. Well, they might be working the same amount of time, but they’re much less effective and efficient. They get less done in that work. And they make more errors. And so more errors because of sleep deprivation, more errors, because people are burned out. So just just that work life boundary where people are working more, and they’re doing more things causes them to make more errors, because they’re doing less quality work. It also causes worse health. So which is especially problematic in the pandemic. But even outside of the pandemic causes worse physical health and worse mental health. People are more anxious, more depressed, more stressed. That’s kind of mental health. And people have various other various physical ailments, like ulcers and mood, various sort of stomach problems, various sorts of infirmities that come from being overworked. And of course, that causes decreased retention, because in the long term, longer term employees who are not given flexibility and especially who are forced to work after hours, where there’s that expectation from leaders, they are going to be leaving companies and they are leaving companies, there’s you know, there’s a reason there’s increasingly poor retention, where retention is going down in the pandemic, with work due to work from home burnout and some fatigue. So that’s the last of the 12 problems that I wanted to share with you that causes work from home burnout and zoom fatigue, that those 12 problems and especially that profound issue of not treating work from home burnout and zoom fatigue as a strategic issue instead of treating it as an operational issue, that abrupt transition, and that transposing that, putting those square peg of office culture into the round hole of remote work. That’s the biggest fundamental cause of work from home burnout and zoom fatigue. So it’s a lot more complex than you might think. Alright, everyone, this has been another episode of the wise decision maker show. I hope you found it beneficial, please make sure to follow us on whatever you’ve checked us out whether it’s on YouTube for the videocast version of this or in iTunes or various other podcasts. For the podcast version of this. Click Like please share it on social media, when shared with your friends and whoever else you think would benefit your bosses if you want to benefit from work from them. Addressing work from home burnout, and zoom fatigue, there’s a blog with this information that’s linked in the show notes that you can check out has a lot more information. Make sure again to follow us to subscribe and leave your comments and reviews we’d really appreciate hearing from you. That helps us make much better content. Alright everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this again and look forward to seeing you next time on the Wise Decision Maker Show and in the meantime, the wisest and most profitable decisions to you, my friends.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Originally Published at Disaster Avoidance Experts on April 13, 2021