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Take burnout seriously: what you can do to prevent it during the COVID-19 crisis

By Orlagh Reynolds, Senior business Director 

 

The COVID-19 crisis has left most of the nation under lockdown. Of course, many of us have been left feeling worried or anxious about our own health, as well as the health and wellbeing of our loved ones.

However, it’s also had a huge impact on our professional lives. Many organisations are feeling the pressure, and employees need to be even more responsive, productive and effective. Yet this can prove challenging when we don’t have the ability to have quick face-to-face conversations with colleagues, technology isn’t always reliable and, for many, there are also the responsibilities of family life to consider. 

As the lines between our personal and professional lives blur like never before, why should we take burnout seriously, and what can you do to ensure you don’t become overworked during this crisis?

Working hours have seen a spike since the crisis began

Currently, you can easily end up working longer hours and burning yourself out. Sure enough, according to NordVPN, there is evidence of employee hours having spiked since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. In the UK, workdays have typically increased by an average of two hours – and for many, it may well be more.

The negative impacts of overworking are many. Not only does it impact your mental health – at a time which is already emotionally trying – but it can adversely impact your physical health too, whether through stress or lack of sleep. Of course, the mental and physical impact of being continuously overworked will also affect your work, through reduced concentration and eventually, a drop-off in productivity.

8 ways to stop yourself from becoming overworked during lockdown

With this in mind, here are some tips for preventing burnout as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

  1. Set boundaries. If you have the space, devote somewhere in your home specifically for work, ideally with a desk, supportive chair and good lighting. Clearly communicate the start and finish times of your ‘office hours’ with the people you live with. Of course, staying focused and distraction-free while working from home can be especially tricky for those with children. If you can, try to prearrange with others in your household when each of you can take charge of the kids – perhaps you and your partner can work two hours on, two hours off? If you are unable to share parenting responsibilities, speak to your manager and team to make them aware of any hours you will be ‘offline’ and with your family.
  2. Prioritise the tasks that actually matter for that day. Be clear in your mind on what the key areas of focus are that day. Focus on these only, and communicate any urgent priorities with your team, ensuring they are realistic. This will ensure you’re all collectively working towards the same aim and concentrating on the right things, whilst also not being overwhelmed by the work needed to be completed in the days and weeks ahead. By keeping your task list to one day’s activities only, it will also give you a greater sense of achievement at the end of the day, making it more likely that you will log off at a reasonable hour and enjoy your evening.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say no. In these changing times, your priorities and areas of focus might shift, almost on a daily basis. That’s why you need to have the confidence and conviction to say ‘no’ to tasks that aren’t going to help you or your business achieve what’s truly important right now. Habitual over-workers can be ‘people pleasers’, so you need to learn the art of graciously saying no if certain tasks threaten to overwhelm you, and simply aren’t a priority. If an extra task or two really does need to be taken on, try to be realistic about what you can do in the time that you have during your main working day, perhaps offering a partial solution in the meantime.
  4. Don’t skip your lunch break. Don’t eat from your desk! If you can, have a space that is nowhere near your desk for eating, or go outside for some fresh air, while respecting your local authority’s guidelines on social distancing. This will enable you to ensure your lunch break feels like an actual break, and in turn, will help you to feel more motivated when you resume work in the afternoon.
  5. Don’t let your working hours overrun. Be disciplined in leaving your home office when your working hours are over, at least on some nights of the week, and don’t go back in until the morning! It can be especially tempting for many people to ‘put a bit of work in’ late at night. However, this could come at the cost of disrupting your sleep schedule and depleting your energy levels the following day.
  6. Switch off your work phone if you can. If this isn’t possible, at least limit yourself to only checking your work emails once or twice in the evening. You should also be logging out of Skype or any other chat or messaging functionality that you may have on your machine.
  7. Take time for yourself. It’s crucial to enable your mind to understand that you are no longer working. Do some exercise, take up a relaxing hobby, spend quality time with your family or housemates or cook a nice meal – in short, whatever you can do that is different to work, and ideally in a different room to your ‘home office’. Make this consistent, and it’ll become a signal in your mind that the workday is over.
  8. Try not to dwell on the negatives. You may be overworking to avoid paying too much attention to the crisis that is going on around us. So instead, try to focus on the positives in your life and what you have to be grateful for. Consider what you can do around the house that you’ve been meaning to get to or catching up with friends and family remotely. In short, there are always things that you can do to distract yourself and use your time in healthy and productive ways during this outbreak, rather than overworking.

Don’t let burnout impact your wellbeing during this challenging time

It’s easy to feel guilty if you aren’t working more hours than usual during the coronavirus pandemic. However, a feeling that you ‘need’ to work more right now can also be a slippery slope that causes you to venture into bad habits, such as overworking and putting your wellbeing in danger when you most need to look after yourself. It’s therefore important to have a sense of perspective and let go of the unrealistic expectations you have for yourself.

By adopting simple but stringent measures like the above, you will be able to better shield yourself from the dangerous consequences of overworking during this very testing time for us all.

If you’re considering your next step, get in contact with one of our expert recruitment consultants for a confidential chat about the career options available to you, or to access a host of resources for helping you adapt to the new way of working, visit our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work Hub. As your lifelong career partner we are with you every step of the way and will be updating this site regularly with new guides, blogs and information to support you.

About this author

Orlagh Reynolds is a Senior Business Director leading a team of Hays recruiting specialists across Office Support, Accountancy & Finance, Senior Finance HR and Procurement and Supply Chain. Orlagh has over 16 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, in both Ireland and Australia, and is based in our Dublin office.

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