Feeling Overwhelmed – Tips to Recognize and Avoid Remote Worker Burnout

“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” -Sam Keen

remote workerThe remote work lifestyle can be a double-edged sword with a lot of joy, contentment, and potential, as well as a hidden dark side.

First the good news.  According to an article by Psychology Today, “The Virtual Workplace: Tips For Working From Anywhere“;


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“Telecommuters are more satisfied with their work/life balance and report lower rates of job burnout.”

Generally the telecommuting lifestyle is a very positive one. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone.  Remove the commute, the meetings, the face to face office politics, and you lower your stress out of the starting gate.

Now for the dark side to working remotely.

According to a research article by Cornell University, “VIRTUAL TEAMS: WORK/LIFE CHALLENGES – KEEPING REMOTE EMPLOYEES ENGAGED;

“Mulki et al note that remote workers generally work longer hours because they often work during times they would have been commuting.  Remote employees may also have difficulty disengaging from work because they don’t have the traditional boundaries between personal and workspace. Additionally, remote workers may work harder to prove themselves, because of lack of visibility, thus increasing their stress.”

All remote workers face these challenges.

Ironically, as I began to write this article last night after a long workday and a long run, I turned my laptop off and went to bed as I began to recognize a couple of the classic signs of remote worker burnout.

Here is the complete list of remote worker burnout signs, which I did not experience in its entirety 🙂

  • Feeling like every day has been a bad day.
  • Being concerned and caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of time and energy.
  • You’re feeling exhausted all or most of the time.
  • Most of your work day feels like it is being wasted on tasks you find either extremely boring or overwhelming.
  • The feeling that nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
  • A tired and drained feeling most of the time.
  • Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot.
  • Physical symptoms like frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
    Change in appetite or sleep habits.
  • Having an ongoing sense of failure and self-doubt.
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
  • Lack of loss of motivation.
  • Becoming increasingly cynical and negative in your outlook.
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
  • Withdrawing from your work and life responsibilities.
  • Isolating yourself from friends, family and co-workers.
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with your feelings.
  • Taking out your frustrations on others.
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.

It’s normal to have a bad day now and then, even when you are a remote worker who us enjoying all the benefits and lifestyle of working at home.  However, it is not normal to experience several of the symptoms listed above, or to experience them for an extended period of time.

So what are the caused of remote worker burnout?

A sampling of work-related causes of burnout.

  • The ongoing feeling like you have little or no control over your work.
  • A distinct lack of recognition or rewards for good work.
  • Unclear or overly demanding job expectations from your supervisor or customer.
  • Doing work that’s monotonous or un-challenging and boring.
  • Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.

Some of the lifestyle causes of burnout.

  • Working too much, without taking enough time for relaxing and socializing.
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people.
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others.
  • Not getting enough sleep or quality sleep.
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships and friends.

Personality traits can contribute to burnout.

  • Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough.
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world.
  • The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others.
  • High-achieving, Type A personality.

Now the best news of all, remote worker burnout is a solvable problem.

Work-Life Balance Strategies for the Remote Employee

  • Have an intentional discussion about the dynamics and practices of remote work with your supervisor and have her/him articulate expectations.
  • Ask your manager to prioritize your tasks so that you know which tasks are most important, otherwise, you may feel that everything is urgent.
  • Discuss expectations of communication practices. For example, when is it too late at night to call your supervisor or visa versa? This is particularly important when you work in different time zones from your boss, customer, or other team members.
  • Ask your employer to find ways to minimize time-consuming administrative tasks like having to mail or fax original copies of receipts and other forms.
  • If you work at home, set clear boundaries for yourself which define when you are working and when you are just “at home.” This may include shutting down your computer or turning off your work cell phone during defined hours.

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