Even as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are lifted and states begin to reopen businesses, many office workers are still doing their jobs remotely. And they’re tired.
A recent survey from the Society of Human Resources Management found that 35% of employees reported feeling tired or having little energy often and 32% reported feeling that way sometimes. A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean found that 82% of remote tech workers reported feeling fatigued.
It might seem counterintuitive. After all, the commute to the office is now a walk down the hallway. But experts say it’s not that simple and there are other factors leading to our exhaustion. Here are six, as well as some insight about what you can do about them:
While we may be spending more time at home, that doesn’t mean we’re sitting on the couch, binging Netflix. “Our minds are racing from one problem-solving test to another,” says Phyllis Horner, cofounder and CEO of Great Places and Spaces LLC, a workplace consultancy. Whether you’re worried about the virus, racism, or other societal issues, homeschooling your children, keeping family members and yourself safe, or a combination of issues, you can quickly become overwhelmed, which can lead to exhaustion, Horner says.
Tackling feeling overwhelmed requires a combination of individual and big-picture solutions, she says. Taking breaks from TV and social media and establishing a mindfulness practice, like meditation, can help reduce some of the external “noise.” Asking for help with child care, elder care, or other responsibilities, if it’s available to you, can also give you more time back. Most important, however, you need to understand your personal needs and seek out the solutions and support you need.
One reason some people are tired is because they’re working more, says workforce psychologist Angela Karnes Padron. As previously reported by Fast Company, a survey by Blue Jeans found that remote workers are logging an additional 3.13 hours per day working from home. Those who say they’re significantly more productive at home are logging 4.64 extra hours each day, which can be draining.
Padron says that employees feel the pressure to show productivity when they’re working from home, so that may encourage them to work extra hours. In addition, it’s just so easy—the work is right there and it can be hard to set boundaries when you live where you work. Plus, the distractions and interruptions during the day can cause work and life to blend more than they should. “We have to set good boundaries, particularly with family members,” she says.
When people are at home and anxious, they may do the exact opposite of what they need to do to stay healthy, says Richard Chaifetz, neuropsychologist and CEO of ComPsych, an employee assistance company. “They tend to stay up late, change the routine, eat a lot of junk food, because it felt it fulfills a need immediately. That’s the worst thing you can do,” he says. Now that the weather is better, go outside, he adds. Practice social distancing, and find healthier ways to soothe yourself.
Sitting in front of a computer all day, interacting through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other videoconferencing platforms can also be exhausting. “People are having Zoom fatigue,” says psychologist Jeffrey Kassinove, cofounder of Therapy West. “Humans are social and need typical social contact,” he says. It’s tougher to read social cues and body language via video than in-person. Plus, having back-to-back Zoom calls can just be draining because of the amount of focus necessary. Be sure to schedule breaks and don’t feel like you always need to participate with your video on if you are free to choose audio-only participation.
Chaifetz says that trying to work from home if you don’t have the necessary space and equipment to be effective at your job can also be a problem. “Either their places are small and not conducive, because they don’t have a separate place to do their work. Or maybe in a bigger place, but it’s crowded with family members, etc. And that can be very draining,” he says.
Setting boundaries during work hours and having a dedicated space for work can help in mitigating that fatigue, he says.
While it’s often overlooked, grief is another factor that can be contributing to exhaustion, Horner says. We may be grieving because of loss, current events, or disruption in our lives. “I think we really all are kind of grieving the life we used to have,” she says. “Even if it wasn’t perfect, we knew it and we knew how to survive in it.”