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Stress and Burnout during COVID-19 is a Real Danger

There is a difference between stress and burnout. Stress is inevitable in everyday life. Burnout is a result of prolonged stressors and a real possibility during these uncertain times.

Suddenly we are expected to change how we do the simplest things. Just going to the grocery store is an effort and wiping down all the products upon return takes forever. People face job losses and have to balance their work-life at home. Instantly people are expected to home school, do their own domestic chores, provide child-care or caring for the elderly, convert home spaces into work spaces and manage a full-time job. In addition, they constantly worry about if an invisible enemy will destroy their lives. People are relentlessly attempting to make the right decisions that won’t endanger the health, safety, mental and social well-being of their children, family and themselves. This is being referred to as “work-from-home-burnout”.

Another problem is that the usual coping mechanism for handling stress is now either taken away or limited because of lockdown. During Level 5 lockdown people were expected to sit at home, not exercise or go to the gym, movies, out for dinner or even for a walk. They were not allowed to interact face-to-face as social distancing became a hard reality. And now even more so, self-motivation is hanging by a thread.

Believe it or not, stress is sometimes necessary. But when we experience stress for an extended period of time without being able to better handle it with one of our coping mechanisms, we can begin to feel constant fatigue, depressed, numb, hopeless and demotivated. We stop caring, become passionless and feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. At this stage, you would likely be suffering from some sort of work-from-home burnout. The simplest explanation of burnout is when you are basically in a state of emotional and physical exhaustion which is caused by a lot and constant stress.

What are the Symptoms of Stress and Burnout?

People experience stress differently. Here are some of the most common symptoms of stress vs burnout:

Symptoms of Stress

Symptoms of Burnout

  • Irritability
  • Stomach pains
  • Constantly having Nervous feelings
  • Teeth grinding
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating and focussing
  • Sweaty palms and/or feet
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping OR
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Social detachment
  • Nausea
  • Alienating themselves from work-related activities, socially and emotionally distancing themselves that they begin to feel numb and non- caring towards their work
  • Chronic stress may lead to having all or some of the physical symptoms of stress
  • Emotional exhaustion, feeling drained.
  • Feeling unable to cope, and tired all the time. 
  •  Lack of energy to do their work.
  • Affects everyday tasks and performance drastically decreases. 
  • Difficulty to focus at work
  • Negativity 
  • Loss of creativity and drive

How Can Businesses Prevent Burnout in Employees

Businesses across the globe are suffering. They are experiencing huge financial pressures because of economic shutdowns. Still, the mental health of employees needs to be prioritised. Management and leaders will have to assist their teams to avoid burnout and help them cope with the psychological effects the pandemic is causing in order to avoid further devastating expenses. Consider these points in your efforts:

  • Re-establish some balance.Working has not ceased. Household chores did not come to a halt and childcare (with the add on of home schooling), buying groceries etc. are still very much part of peoples’ lives. But now everything is consolidated into one area called ‘home’. It’s even easier to get these lines blurred and there is no visible work-life divider. No more “switch off from work and switch on I’m at home”. “Work-from-home burnout” is very real. If you lack a work-life balance it contributes to this type of burnout. Companies and team leaders should still respect employees’ personal time and be realistic that an employee might not be able to keep to normal office hours any more. Determine what will work and build on that.
  • Invest in developing the skills of your employees regarding their stress and time management techniques.Companies should still invest in the wellbeing of their employees and encourage learning. Let them do remote courses to learn new time and stress management techniques, tools and strategies.
  • Allow your employees flexibility.This is also a new challenge for most office-bound employees. Leaders should set the norms but also provide flexibility. Be lenient especially towards each individual’s circumstances, for example, parents or single parents. 
  • Communication channels need to be open.It might feel like it is very time consuming, but team leaders should have regular one-on-one meetings and constant feedback sessions to promote performance. Have an open-door policy and encourage employees to talk to management if they experience problems. Practice active listening and come up with solutions together.
  • Lead with Empathy and Emotional Intelligence.Employees need to know that the company and you as the leader care about their wellbeing. If they feel like they matter they will put in the extra effort while looking after themselves.
  • Support your Employees. Make it as easy as possible for employees to work from home. Provide the data, office equipment and training that they would require. Take for example Virtual Meeting Etiquette skills. Employees who are not used to conducting or attending meetings online need these skills to remain professional within the workplace although now remotely.
  • Provide Psychological Safety. Promote social meetings or team building efforts via Zoom or any online platform. This might seem like a small effort but it can have a huge impact on your team’s morale.

One thing is for sure, this pandemic will change how we do business and work. It is already changing businesses’ perceptions on how the workplace can look and be operated. This pandemic made companies realise just how much can be achieved with remote employees. Leaders and Management will hopefully be more appreciative of their employees’ life outside the workplace arena.