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How to Help Remote Workers Avoid the Endless Workday

How to Help Remote Workers Avoid the Endless Workday

by Louis Efron

Story Highlights

  • Remote workers often face nearly unending workdays
  • Fatigue and employee burnout plague many remote workers
  • Three actions bring better work-life balance to hybrid and remote workplaces

While remote work has ushered in a new era of human wellbeing -- from flexible work schedules to better work-life integration to more quality time with loved ones or for personal endeavors -- it has also created new complexities.

With work and home life nearly inseparable, people resources strained because of the Great Resignation/Reshuffle/Reevaluation, and global virtual teams spanning multiple time zones the norm, employees are now working longer hours than ever before. The possible biggest culprit? The elimination of the work commute.

To compensate for the loss of employee downtime connected to remote work and reduce employee burnout, managers must:

  • address technology challenges
  • set clear work expectations
  • lead by example

Pre-COVID-19, most employees would wake up, get ready for work, eat breakfast, and walk, drive, or take public transportation to work. While some people might have worked during their commute, most probably enjoyed some downtime by listening to their favorite music or audiobook or catching up with friends or family. This personal time may have given them a break from home or work pressures for at least a short while.

For a good portion of the workforce who are now remote, life without a commute has changed. These remote workers might wake up to their smartphone's alarm, start responding to emails as they throw on casual clothing -- or a more appropriate business top half -- grab breakfast on their way to their home office, where they switch to their laptops to keep working.

Remote workers most likely have lunch the same way they had breakfast (versus an outing with colleagues or taking a walk), and unless they have sit-down dinners, they may have dinner like they did lunch. A nonstop day for these employees could end with some brief downtime with partners, kids, a book or more screen time on TV or a smartphone -- only to return to email before bed to start the whole cycle again.

The ease and accessibility of technology combined with remote work makes it vital for managers and businesses to address burnout in their organizations. Giving time back to employees is a necessary way to help workers -- remote or otherwise -- balance their lives.

The Downside of Technology

If you own a smartphone, there seems to be no escape from emails, texts or calls unless you turn it off -- an option that most of us shudder at, even if we don't have a job or run a business.

Despite a large majority of U.S. adults believing that smartphones have improved their lives, nearly six in 10 say they use their device too much.

Forty-four percent of Americans say they would feel anxious if they lost their smartphone for a day. But, unless you are a trauma surgeon or other type of emergency worker, life will go on without you checking your device or responding to an email, text or phone call.

Just over eight in 10 adults (83%) keep their device with them during all waking hours, with 72% keeping them close while sleeping and 64% checking it the moment they wake up. Reading such stats out of context could easily lead to a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you own a smartphone, there seems to be no escape from emails, texts or calls unless you turn it off -- an option that most of us shudder at, even if we don't have a job or run a business.

Compounding this technology challenge is remote work. As a remote worker, no matter how many hours you work or how hard, you might feel like others don't believe you're working because you're not in the office. This belief can lead to thinking you need to be on 24/7 to prove you are working just as hard, if not harder, than those in the office.

Plus, if you have smartphone notifications on, which many of us do, there is always the urge to look at new emails or texts the moment they arrive. This urge to check notifications could mean disrupting a meal with others, time with your children, or a movie you're watching, or it could simply make you worry you'll miss something important or a message from your boss. There could even be an expectation that you will immediately answer a work email or call.

If turning off a smartphone during nonworking hours is uncomfortable or impractical for your employees, give them time back by asking them to shut off work notifications during personal time.

Setting Work Expectations

Employees must believe it's OK and be encouraged to not work outside of set hours of operations and during meals or breaks, but also feel empowered to work when they need to catch up, address urgent matters or simply when they are at their best.

Sending emails, texts or doing work outside of normal or posted work hours does not always mean employees are overworked or burned out.

In fact, when employers focus on results over hours worked, it is not at all rare for people to work when they are at their best. This could mean early in the morning, late at night or on the weekend.

However, if employees feel compelled to work during off hours, they must remain mindful of how it could affect others. Reinforcing work hour expectations, putting "FOR MONDAY" in an email subject line or saving drafts to send during regular office hours are all helpful tactics to give employees needed breaks from work.

Leading by Example

The way leaders behave is the way employees will act. If managers tell their team to take time off and don't work but do the opposite on their next vacation, they set the expectation that work does not stop even during personal time.

When managers send emails during nonworking hours, on the weekends or on vacation, this also influences others on their team to work.

The way leaders behave is the way employees will act.

Managers can give time back to their employees by leading by example, being aware of when they schedule meetings, focusing on results over time worked, and encouraging them to participate in activities employees enjoy outside of working hours.

When organizations and managers intentionally help their employees balance their personal and work lives by giving time back, they can reduce employee burnout, stress, and anxiety and improve employee wellbeing, talent retention, attraction, and business results.

Create a remote or hybrid workplace that brings out the best in your employees.


Louis Efron is a Principal at Gallup.

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