Work stress has taken on an entirely new meaning in 2020. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, normal boundaries between work and personal life have all but disappeared. Busy days used to mean a couple extra hours in the office, or long meetings with clients. This hard work could be rewarded with a fun team event, a relaxing evening at home, or a weekend out with friends. Now however, with so many people working remotely, there is very little separation between work and home. In fact, when work from home mandates were first initiated in March, research showed US employees working 3 hours more every day than when they worked in the office. Whether those longer days are attributed to fewer resources, inefficient workflows, or time spent multitasking, it’s not surprising that people feel overworked and stressed.
Before the challenges of the pandemic, Iwo Szapar said that remote work can actually reduce stress for employees. He noted that remote workers, especially those in their 20s and 30s, can use a flexible schedule to “juggle between work, hobbies, and time with friends, resulting in a positive work-life balance and also reducing workplace stress.” It’s true that remote work has benefits, and it is absolutely possible for some people to be successful and productive while working from home. But when you remove all boundaries between work and personal life, implement social distancing restrictions, and add a homeschooling children into the mix, remote work seems much harder to maintain.
So whether you are working from home, going into the office, or doing a combination of the two, COVID-19 has likely contributed some amount of additional stress to your workplace. That’s why we are outlining some of the common causes of stress right now, as well as well as ways you can manage it. Here’s what you need to know to take control of your stress and survive the pandemic without suffering from professional burnout.
Sources Of Work Stress During COVID-19
Whether you are working from home, going into the office, or doing a combination of the two, COVID-19 has likely impacted the way you work to some extent. To help you analyze your own circumstances, the CDC has outlined common work-related factors that can add additional stress during the pandemic. These include:
- Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Managing a different workload
- Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
- Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
- Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
- Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule
How To Manage Your Work Stress
After you recognize where your stress is coming from, you can take actionable steps to minimize it. Keeping these CDC factors in mind, we have come up with several tips to help you manage your stress while you work remotely.
Set realistic goals.
Pressure to meet unattainable goals is a major source of workplace stress. And it goes without saying, but the goals you set at the beginning of 2020 are probably not the same goals you should be working towards now. As the workplace changes and adapts to this new climate, employees and leaders have to be realistic about what is actually possible at each step of the way. Maybe this means you have to adjust a timeline, press pause on a project, or reach out for additional help. Wherever you need to change things up, just make sure to manage the expectations of others, which will set you at ease knowing that everyone is on the same page.
Follow general working hours.
Do you find yourself responding to more messages outside your usual working hours? To stay on good terms while working remote, many workers feel pressure to overperform and work much more than they usually do. The pressure to respond immediately, at all times of the day, can be a major stress for remote workers. Just because you are working from home, it doesn’t mean you should be required to respond at any point. You should be able to make yourself lunch or run out to the grocery store without checking Slack every 3 minutes.
Talk to your manager and set clear expectations for how quickly you should respond, as well as what times you are available for ad-hoc requests. Giving other people set time frames will minimize stress and give you the control to step away from your computer during the day or log off completely at night.
Take time off.
Taking time off is crucial to avoid burnout at work. The American Psychological foundation found that 57% percent of Americans feel less stressed after taking vacation time. Even more, 68% of workers said vacation time increases their positive mood and energy, and 58% say they return to work with improved productivity.
Taking time off doesn’t come as natural when working from home though, especially during COVID-19. Glassdoor notes that “most employees usually associate PTO days with a planned vacation away from home and time out of the office to recharge.” With limited options now to actually travel and plan activities for vacation days, you can still find other ways to recharge. Be intentional and find time to escape from work, whether it’s logging off early, taking a half day to spend time with a friend, or planning a fun staycation.
If your work stress is reaching unmanageable levels and a standard amount of PTO is not enough to help, you can request stress leave for extended time off. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain US employees are guaranteed up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss. Stress leave is a significant request and must be used cautiously, so you should first consult your doctor to see if your situation is appropriate.
Communicate clearly and intentionally.
Communication has to be much more intentional when employees work remotely. In an office setting, there are many organic opportunities to chat with coworkers about work and outside life. It’s easy to walk over to someone’s desk, chat about a new idea over a cup of coffee, or escape to a conference room to hash out an issue. When you work remotely, you have to create those moments yourself with scheduled meetings and very intentional feedback. Remote work also lacks those nonverbal communication cues, such as body language, which are actually believed to make up 93% of all communication. This proves that without in-person interactions, people have to be very intentional to get their full point across.
This includes communication both up and down the organizational ladder. Organizations have to listen to the needs of their employees, and provide them with ample information, resources, and tools to feel secure and supported while they are working remote. In other words, you probably won’t be able to survive on email alone. If your company doesn’t already use tools like Hive, Zoom, and Slack, this is a great time to start. These remote work tools can enable open and direct interactions between employees, managers, and the organization as a whole. You can learn more about Hive and start a free 14-day trial here.
Workplace changes can be really stressful for everyone involved, including management, employees, and customers. Some changes are unavoidable right now, like implementing a new tool for remote work, or getting used to new virtual meeting formats. But with so much already in flux, it might be worth pressing pause on any unnecessary adjustments in the workplace.
At a time when so much is controlled by external factors, it’s important to take advantage of what you do have control over. If you are an employee already adjusting to change, or anticipating what is to come, make sure you communicate concerns to leadership. Let someone know if you are struggling, or if you have suggestions for how something can be done in this new environment. And if you are a manager, take time to weigh the benefits with the immediate stresses that these changes will cause your team. Shoot for stability.
There are so many things out of your control right now, but work stress doesn’t have to be one of them. We hope these tips can help you manage your stress, avoid burnout, and remain as productive as possible during the pandemic. Do you have recommendations for other ways to deal with work stress right now? Let us know in the comments below.