Burnout at work: Why we need to reset our professional boundaries

After a two-year period of irregularity, turmoil and inconsistency, it seems we have finally returned to a sense of normality and routine in the workplace. With each office providing different options for their employees, be it full-time working from home, in the office or a hybrid mix, workers now finally know how their Monday-Friday will look every week, and how this fits in alongside their other familial, social and practical commitments.

However, for some – work is still king. Another product of the pandemic is the introduction of flexible working, which, although ultimately is a good thing, has meant that emails are being sent at all hours, and not necessarily in the hours that everyone is working in. With email dominating communications between workers, and many desiring a clear inbox to start their morning with each day, the need to respond to a message the moment it comes in to ‘get it out of the way’ means that instead of creating an instant reprieve, they’re instead keeping the momentum of work in their head, even when off the clock.

Email is not the only culprit in making people work beyond their hours. Instant messaging services such as Microsoft Teams or Slack may be handy when in need of a quick or urgent question, but this sense of immediate gratification again builds pressure to reply, especially when these services have ‘read receipts’, meaning that the sender will know when a message has been opened, unless this setting has been manually turned off. Many people choose to have this program on their phone for ease, however by receiving messages from instant messaging apps on your (often personal) phone, this blurs the line between professional and personal, allowing this to infiltrate in your everyday life.

The hybrid way of working is also a highly beneficial post-pandemic practise; however, office space can be limited. Companies have grown, many have chosen to move to smaller offices with less space required, some have closed their offices completely and instead moved to co-working spaces. Because of this, the ‘traditional desk’ is a thing of old, and employees are left to carry their laptops around, without a place to safely store it. Not only does that provide somewhat of a security risk, with people almost permanently in possession of expensive equipment, but the temptation of having a laptop at home (particularly for guilty as charged workaholics) can make out of hours working simple.

There’s also a sense of guilt that comes from working after hours when in the office. After two years of working from home the majority of the time – although statistics have proven that people were more productive – many are still feeling the pressure to overcompensate when they are in their physical workplace, showing that they are working hard through the time that they put in, and staying late, particularly to impress the boss. In a time where we have all shown our resilience and flexibility in a time of difficulty, it seems somewhat antiquated to return to this – don’t you think?

What can people do to create an improvement in their work-life balance and reduce the risk of inevitable burnout? With us all picking up bad habits that keeps work at the front of our mind during the evening and weekends, it’s time to break the barriers and make three simple, quick changes that will ultimately improve our attitudes to work.

  • Out of sight, out of mind. With there being no way to avoid our laptops or work tools when at home, we must instead take matters into our own hands. Put your laptop in an unseen place, be it a drawer, cupboard or packed in your bag when you aren’t using it. By not having it poised in a position ready to work, temptation will be resisted to ‘quickly log on for one thing’. Trust us, that time adds up.
  • Manage your notifications. Services such as Slack allow you to notify other users that you are offline during certain times so that they are reminded to contact you only if something is extremely important. If you don’t have Slack or are unsure what settings are available for your method of instant messaging, look it up! If there aren’t any quick fixes, you can manually turn off your notifications each evening and turn them back on again each morning.

For email, turn off notifications completely. On the Outlook app it still provides a number notification of how many new messages you have, and there’s always the option to manually check whether you have received an important message. Don’t be ruled by notifications!

  • Make it impossible to stay late. Our time is the most important currency of all, far more than a pay check or the chance of promotion. Whilst sometimes a late night or early start can be inevitable, try and reduce this as much as possible by making plans in the evening. These don’t have to be social, it could be a gym class, a family dinner, or even the importance of completing chores. By giving yourself something you have to do, your priorities will change, and you will get these moments back.

Burnout is a great risk in the workplace, and whilst small things like the above aren’t enough alone to solve it – adding these into your everyday routine lessens the chance that you will suffer, also helping to reignite your passion for your job.