Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a recent guest on Entrepreneurs' Organization's EO 360° podcast, is an author and CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts. As a cognitive neuroscientist and expert on human behavior, we asked Dr. Tsipursky about the complex reasons behind work-from-home burnout. Here's what he shared:
Are you or your employees experiencing work-from-home (WFH) burnout and Zoom fatigue despite the supposed convenience of working virtually and videoconferencing?
Unfortunately, the majority of efforts to address WFH burnout treat the symptoms without addressing root causes. The fundamental root cause of WFH burnout stems from organizations adapting existing in-person "office culture" interactions to remote platforms. Using office-style culture to conduct virtual work is simply forcing a square peg into a round hole, leading many staff to burnout.
To defeat WFH burnout, it's critical for organizations to understand its root causes. Combining my expertise in emotional and social intelligence with research on the specific problems of working from home during the pandemic, I've untangled these two concepts into a series of 12 factors:
Loss of meaning and purpose.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that most people don't realize that what we're experiencing goes beyond work-from-home burnout. We're being deprived of a basic human need: Getting meaning and purpose from our work. Shifting to remote work severely disrupts our sense of self, identity, and self-narratives, which are all tied to our work.
Deprivation of our need for connection.
Work communities offer a key source of fulfillment. Video-conference platforms greatly diminish the ability to connect effectively to colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen.
Deprivation of trust.
In office settings, we build trust through informal interactions. There's a reason teams that start off virtually, then later meet in person, work together substantially better after real-life interaction. Conversely, teams that shift from in-person to virtual settings gradually lose their sense of shared humanity and trust.
Loss of informal professional development.
A critical part of on-the-job learning stems from informal mentoring by senior colleagues. Observational professional development happens as we witness colleagues doing their jobs. Lost mentoring opportunities are especially challenging for younger employees.
It's not simply "Zoom fatigue."
The fatigue is real, but it's not about Zoom or any other video-conference software. It's our intuitive expectation that virtual meetings will bring us energy through connecting to people--and the inevitable failure we experience when our basic need for human connection goes unmet.
In-person meetings, even if strictly professional, still connect us on a human-to-human level. By contrast, our emotions don't process video-conferences as true human connection on a gut level.
Forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Many companies try to replace the office culture glue of social and emotional connection through Zoom happy hours or similar activities that transpose in-person bonding events into virtual formats. Unfortunately, that doesn't work well, resulting in disappointment and frustration when our basic human needs aren't met.
Lack of virtual work technology skills.
Virtual technology tool glitches lead to lowered productivity and frustration for those who need to collaborate.
Lack of effective virtual communication skills.
It's notoriously hard to communicate effectively in person. Virtual environments amplify that difficulty.
Lack of effective virtual collaboration skills.
There's no natural way to conduct the casual interactions that are vital to effective teamwork on a virtual platform. Body language and voice tone are critical indicators, but virtual communication squelches those cues.
Lack of accountability.
In an office setting, there are natural ways to hold employees accountable. Leaders can walk around the office, observing and checking in with direct reports. The same applies to peer-to-peer accountability: It's easier to ignore an email than someone standing in your office doorway. You'll need to replace that accountability with a different structure for remote work.
Poor work-from-home environments.
Not all employees have access to quiet spaces and stable internet connections. Overhauling workspaces will take time and resources that may not be available to everyone.
Poor work/life boundaries.
Ineffective separation of work and life stems from both employer and employee actions. In the long term, it causes lowered productivity, increased errors, and eventual burnout.
Work-from-home burnout and Zoom fatigue are much more complex than they appear. Organizations must implement a wholesale strategic shift to reframe policies and company culture from the "emergency mode" of working from home to remote work becoming the new normal.