If you’ve been working from home during the pandemic, chances are, you’ve been doing so longer and harder than ever before. With your commute eliminated and your laptop within an arm’s reach, employees are being seen as more available than ever before, even when they’re really not.
“That puts a greater pressure on you, because everyone’s on their computer, everyone has an expectation that you’ll respond in a certain amount of time. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re on your computer. What are you doing?’ And that puts a tremendous amount of stress on everyone and a higher demand,” says Dr. Danielle Hairston, director of residency training in the Department of Psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine. “You’ll see people respond to emails at 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., trying to meet others’ expectations and it can be definitely overwhelming.”
A Gallup poll from last October found that employees working remotely are experiencing burnout, and that reality is making people less effective at their job, not more. Those who deal with this exhaustion, according to the poll, are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day, 13 percent less confident in their overall performance and 23 percent more likely to end up making a visit to the emergency room. A way to prevent that from happening, though not always easy, is to set boundaries with your work. Dr. Hairston recommends a variety of tactics that can keep you from working around the clock. They include putting a message in your email signature to let people know you’ll respond to them within a certain time frame as opposed to as soon as possible; taking email alerts off of your phone so you’re not always connected; scheduling when your emails will be sent so you’re not getting responses after hours; having a hard out when it comes to the time you will stop working; carving out a designated block of time that is only for you and whatever you want to do with it that aids in productivity; and giving people specific times of when you’ll be available for meetings and calls so your calendar isn’t being monopolized.
“When you are scheduling meetings and doing things with people, don’t give them an entire open window like, ‘I’m free on Fridays.’ No. Say, ‘For this week, I’m able to meet at 10:30 on Tuesday, two o’clock on Friday. That’s all I’ve got for you,'” she says. “You can control your time and you can set that boundary because people want to work with you. If people want to meet with you, they’ll make it work.”
Also essential is being direct in telling people when you’re not interested in an opportunity or request without feeling the need to offer an explanation as to why. Not clarifying the reason for a lack of availability to people is a crucial aspect of self-care and boundary setting.
“You need rest. Everyone is entitled to rest,” Dr. Hairston says. “Rest is an important part of healing, physically, mentally, totally. Rest is an integral part of you feeling better. You don’t owe anyone an explanation if you need to rest.”
You also don’t need to put the desires of others or fear that you can’t say no at your job over your own well-being. That could very well be why so many people are quitting jobs that require so much and offer so little in the pandemic era. Priorities have shifted. Trying to do your job on an empty tank while receiving nothing in return is harmful to an employee, and as Dr. Hairston says, it doesn’t make you exempt from possibly being replaced.
“Protect yourself, protect your peace and protect that space. Because if anything happens to you, yes, people are going to be sad, they’re going to mourn or send you their well wishes, but they’re still going to go on,” she says. “They’re still going to replace you, so you have to prioritize yourself.”