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Key ways to keep employees from burning out at home

June 30, 2021
By Rosalind Stefanac

Achieving ideal posture is critical in a proper workstation setup. (adrian_ilie825/Adobe stock)

With a second year of pandemic living underway, employers are worrying less about the productivity levels of staff members working from home, and more about their physical and mental health.

Their concerns are well-founded.

According to a study from KMPG released in April 2021, almost half of employees say their workload is heavier today than pre-COVID-19, and 31 per cent are so overworked, they’re on the verge of burnout.

Early results from the COVID Economic and Social Effects Study (CESES) out of McMaster University also point to mounting anxiety across Canada’s workforce, along with a negative shift in the power dynamic between employers and staff.


With the threat of unemployment looming, study participants reported feeling unable to say no to employer demands, resulting in a growing resentment for having to do more work at the same pay.

“Our data shows people having more responsibilities and their work being intensified,” says study lead Stephanie Ross, director and associate professor, School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. “They reported feeling stress, exhaustion and physically ill thinking about work, and these are the kinds of indicators that are very concerning.”

As employers figure out what the post-pandemic workplace will look like, Ross says they need to help their employees manage stress and stay resilient in the process.

Here are some key ways to help staff keep healthy and safe while working from home:

Embrace independence

Now that we know employees will keep producing even outside of the office, flexibility can provide employees with the autonomy they crave.

In being able to plan their days and their jobs around procedures and times that work best for them, employees can better focus on their well-being too.

Indeed, the KPMG study found that 62 per cent of employees say the pandemic “has proven they can work independently.” So why not let them?

Build in breaks

With commute times a thing of the past, the boundaries between work and life are blurring rapidly.

There’s no longer time to transition from one place to the other, resulting in longer workdays and more chance of burnout.

Workplace & Safety Prevention Services (WSPS), a non-profit organization committed to protecting Ontario workers and businesses, advises employers to structure breaks for virtual coffee chats with colleagues, and encourage staff working from home to go for frequent walks to emulate the commute before and after work.

Breaks are necessary for mental and physical health so make sure employees are getting enough of them.

Keep an eye on ergonomics

When the pandemic first hit, too many employers just gave their staff members a laptop and left them to scramble around their homes for alternative working spaces.

It’s no surprise that compensation claims are up for lower back pain along with forearm, wrist, or hand pain. In fact, with so many ergonomic injuries on the rise, the need for workers with occupational health and safety (OH&S) certification is growing too.

To prevent staff from long-term, occupational injuries, employees should be encouraged to talk to their managers about getting suitable office equipment for the home.

Providing employees with reputable resources they can tune into for innovative ways to improve their home office setup will help too.

WSPS offers a quick guide for setting up a temporary laptop workstation, and a useful checklist for optimal office work station design.

The bottom line is no good employer wants their employees to burnout. And from a business perspective, higher levels of employee well-being will inevitably result in increased productivity.

That’s why it makes sense to help employees structure their day not only to decompress while working at home, but to ensure they’re doing all they can to nurture their well-being in the process.

Rosalind Stefanac is a contributing writer for CourseCompare, Canada’s marketplace for education.

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