COVID-19 Burnout: Four Ways to Deal with It

Seven in 10 of us are feeling burnout on the job, but the relentless pandemic marches on. Some steps that may help.

At first, she didn’t think it would help. But several weeks into working at home, dealing with the constant work stress now mixed with helping a disabled parent at home, the engineer decided to ask for special “watercooler” time with her coworkers. It was a fancy way of suggesting that conference videos formally include time to talk to colleagues they once knew well in the office setting.

With pay cuts rampant, work increasing, and fretting about the pandemic, the forces that surround workers today are of course among the most stress inducing. Indeed, by early May, 73% of American professionals were feeling burned-out, according to one survey of 7,000 professionals. The top reasons cited are no surprise: no separation between work and home, unmanageable workloads, and worries over job security.

Certainly, companies are worried about their employees being pushed to the brink, especially if a second major wave of coronavirus cases forces many employees out of the workplace again. But with no end in sight to either the pandemic or the economic disruption it’s caused, employees are increasingly trying to avoid losing focus or letting stress overwhelm them. “For some of us, blurring work and personal life are normal things, but a lot of people have been thrust into this environment and there are major challenges,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory. Among some steps to try:

Set a new schedule.

“Work is always there when it’s done at home,” Royal says. Commuting, despite its drawbacks, created a defined time to get into a good mindset before work and a time to decompress afterward on the way home. Now, many people are just getting up, walking a few feet, and sitting down to begin the workday.

Experts say workers should create a work-from-home routine, one where work is done in a defined space, not the entire home. Workers should also define their actual working hours, whether it’s working straight through the day or breaking it up to take care of family or personal matters.

Once you set your schedule, broadcast it, Royal says. Tell coworkers—and your boss—what times you will check in. It’s a similar strategy to staying in touch on vacation but not letting work ruin a vacation, Royal says.

Get priorities from your boss.

As companies furlough or lay off employees, the remaining workers are often picking up additional responsibilities. All the work, but not knowing what’s the most important work, can quickly stress out employees. Experts say employees can help curtail burnout by asking their managers for clear priorities.

However, that conversation could turn south fast if a worker just tells their boss, “I’m burning out. Help me.” A better approach is to frame the conversation around helping the boss most. Experts suggest telling the boss something along the lines of, “I’m coming to you because I know you want me to do the best work. There’s a lot going on, and I want to prioritize the most important things.” Most managers do not want their employees to burn out, and they’ll try to be accommodating, says Val Olson, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance.

Create remote “watercooler” time with coworkers.

Spending 10 minutes emailing or texting coworkers to talk about Netflix shows or trade dinner recipes may seem like a waste of time. But experts say people get a lot of social support from these casual conversations. At the same time, sometimes these so-called “watercooler” conversations can spark new work ideas. “Giving yourself permission to just check in can help you stay productive,” Royal says.

Take the time to take care of yourself.

Exercise and a healthy diet are always good ways to ward off stress and burnout. But during these times, employees should try to put themselves in a different mindset.

It’s important to allow space for frustrations and impatience, Olson says. “You can’t have hope without fear. We’re hoping this will go away, and it won’t go away quickly. Acknowledging that is very important,” she says.

At the same time, people should try to spend part of their day or week working on something that they personally find challenging and rewarding. That could be actual work or a hobby. Doing so can create a sense of enjoyment that can counter a lot of stress.