You have completed your tasks for the day and met all your deadlines. It’s 6pm and it’s time to call it a day at work and unwind. However, instead of mentally switching off and relaxing, you power up your work laptop again after dinner to continue doing work because there’s nothing on television and you might feel more satisfied to be ahead of your deadlines.

Sounds familiar? After working from home for at least five months, we are all in this same vicious cycle of overworking ourselves. It looks like we are productive at work, but at what cost?

The blurry lines between work and life and high expectations we put on ourselves to be productive when working from home could inadvertently escalate anxiety and stress issues, and potentially even lead to burnout.

1. understand that some sectors may require overtime during a pandemic

During this pandemic, it is important to be aware that employees in some sectors would be required to do overtime due to the nature of their work and industry. For instance, manufacturers and distributors of products that are in high demand, such as face masks and ventilators, require their employees to work longer hours to meet urgent sales orders. 

Another sector that is consistently under the spotlight is technology. We’re not just talking about full-stack developers or programmers, but also cybersecurity experts, digital sales and marketing specialists and even HRIS professionals. These products and solutions developed by technologists have made it possible for us to live through the lockdowns and work remotely efficiently. As the world moves from offices to homes, tech experts have tighter deadlines to meet to ensure that everyone can continue to communicate, share information as well as buy and sell goods and services.

2. don’t replace your daily commute with work

One of the good things about working from home is that you have more free time as you’re no longer commuting to and fro work. To some, it means waking up and sleeping later, which may look like a blessing in disguise, but is not a healthy habit to form in the long-term.

social connections during pandemic
social connections during pandemic

A regular work day is structured around your daily commute. Employees leave the office for other activities once they are done with work to wind down, such as having dinner, playing sports or watching a movie with friends or loved ones. However, when we no longer need to commute to and fro the office, we end up spending more time working.

Sitting down for long hours has proven to negatively affect the quality of an employee’s work and health. Taking periodic breaks might seem obvious to most, but many people struggle between taking regular breaks as they don’t see a need to. They are also less likely to take a break to go for a walk in the middle of the day to get another cup of coffee or a snack.

It has never been more important to reinstate these social habits and behaviours. Stop replying to emails at 6am or 10pm! Make dinner plans with your friends to catch up with them, hit the gym or watch a newly-released movie on streaming sites - having such ‘me’ time is important for maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

3. know when to take a break and log off

The increased reliance on technology has unintentionally peeled back a layer to expose the unhealthy side of an employer-employee relationship amidst this pandemic. More often than not, your manager may send you an email, giving you a non-urgent task to complete outside of working hours, because they have chosen to work after hours. And if you are already watching YouTube videos on your laptop, you are more than likely to just switch tabs and start responding to these emails. And the next thing you know, it’s way past your bedtime.

Being able to work helps create a sense of security, as you may feel that your contributions are being valued and you are therefore less likely to be retrenched. Many employees are also happy to step up and provide support during this period of time as well, particularly those in essential services. It is also difficult to say whether the amount of work will subside in the near future with the evolving situation.

However, it is important to take a break. A machine can’t run for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with no breaks. At some point, they need to be oiled to ensure more consistent and better outcomes or be rebooted for a software update. The same applies to humans. It is critical for employees to take care of their own physical and mental health. If you’re on an overdrive and feeling extremely productive at work, make sure you plan for some leave dates ahead of time before you burnout from work.

how can employers help ease their employee’s stressors and workload?

As much as it is the staff’s responsibility to manage their own time, it is also the employer’s responsibility to manage their team’s time.

prevent employee burnout
prevent employee burnout

Employers can help to ease their employees’ fear and workload by implementing simple measures and prevent employee burnout. If they tend to send emails outside of working hours and during the weekends, make it a habit to schedule non-urgent emails for the next day. As much as possible, managers should try to use office chat software such as Google Chats or Skype with colleagues rather than Whatsapp or Telegram to help draw the line between personal life and work.

Employees should also feel safe enough to let their managers know if their workload is too much and raise red flags before they actually miss the deadlines. This way, employers can extend deadlines wherever possible and help to manage their employees’ workload more efficiently.

Triggers of stress can have an accumulative effect on our ability to function and can cause us to be more vulnerable as time passes. The path forward is to teach ourselves to switch off mentally, and know that it is okay to place boundaries around work. In the post-pandemic landscape, we will need to reshape workplace ideals and traditional structures to reflect the ‘new normal’.

As said by Winston Churchill, “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Let’s put our best foot forward and work together to draw our own silver lining in this colossal and daunting pandemic. We have the power to redefine an employee as someone who is able to harmonise their work obligations and familial responsibilities, while having the ability to remain goal-oriented, dedicated and focussed at the same time.

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