Millions of Americans have shifted to working from home during the— for many, it’s already getting old. A recent survey shows that people are finding themselves burning out from the stress, long hours, and lack of boundaries between work and home life.
As the mother of two young children, Jeanne Stafford thought working from home would be a nice change. “I was thinking I was getting some extra time with them. I would set up upstairs. It would be great,” she said.
But after two weeks of working remotely for a Massachusetts publishing house while juggling her family’s needs, she started to feel the strain. “A few days I would be fine, and working fine, and everything would be fine,” she said. “And then on, say like a Friday, I would feel like I couldn’t even deal. Couldn’t get up that day. Couldn’t, you know, get dressed. Couldn’t put a smile on.”
Stafford says she was burned out — a condition doctors are seeing more than ever among people working from home.
“They feel a sense of hopelessness, and they feel a sense of pessimism. It’s almost like this idea, like, it doesn’t matter. Whatever I do, no one’s going to appreciate it,” said Dr. Sue Varma, a psychiatrist.
Of course, for millions of employees who are required to show up at work these days, often putting their health on the line as COVID-19 continues to spread, working from the comfort and safety of home might seem like a luxury. Yet the sense of fatigue for those fortunate enough to slog away from their home offices, bedrooms or kitchens is real.
In a recent survey from Monster.com, 51% of workers said they’re experiencing burnout while working from home during the pandemic. At the same time, a nearly identical number — 52% — said they were not planning to take time off to decompress.
Without a commute to separate home life from the office, it can feel like the workday never ends. Many employees are working harder with longer hours to prove their productivity, even as they face additional responsibilities at home, such as child care and helping kids with school.
Dr. Varma said workers should be vigilant with their time and make sure they’re not creating extra work for themselves.
“I think it’s really important to check yourself to say, ‘If I’m writing that extra memo, if I’m going the extra mile, did somebody actually ask me to do that? Or is that something I’ve invented in my own head that I need to do that?'” she said.
The tendency to focus on short, easily completed tasks when someone is overwhelmed by work has been well-documented. A 2017 Harvard Business School paper found that such tasks — otherwise known as busywork — make workers feel productive. But focusing on them too much hurts long-term performance.
Dr. Varma also recommended, like having defined work hours, clarifying your boss’s expectations and turning off devices for a break.
Health experts are concerned that prolonged work burnout can lead to depression. To prevent that, Stafford is trying to put less pressure on herself as both a worker and a mom, and to take life’s challenges one day at a time.
CBS News’ Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.