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How to Avoid Burnout During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Maurie Backman – Apr 9, 2020 at 8:36AM

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Workers risk burnout now more than ever. Here's how to steer clear of it.

Americans aren't strangers to hard work, with many employees routinely clocking in well more than 40 hours a week. And those with demanding jobs risk falling victim to burnout, which, incidentally, isn't just a buzzword. The Mayo Clinic defines it as "a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work."

Clearly, that's not a healthy or happy place to be. But thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, your risk of succumbing to it may be a lot higher than you'd like it to be.

Juggling work and child care: an impossible ask

Many Americans have lost their jobs in the past few weeks, so to even have the option to continue earning a paycheck from home right now is, to some degree, a gift. On the other hand, working parents are now being put in the extremely difficult position of having to meet deadlines and keep up with responsibilities, but also provide full-time care to their children.

Woman at laptop on phone while young girl pulls her hair and young boy plays plastic flute

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Parents of school-aged children don't tend to pay for day care -- it's not worth it financially, nor is it really needed. Many school districts have before- and after-care programs in place so that parents whose children attend public school can pay a modest premium to drop their kids off early and pick them up well after the last bell of the day rings. That way, their children are cared for, and they can do their jobs.

With schools closed nationwide, parents now have to juggle work and child care duties, and it's causing a world of stress. This especially holds true for parents who are tasked with being active participants in the homeschooling process -- something that likely applies to those with children in elementary school who may not be technologically savvy or focused enough to learn online without guidance.

And let's not forget the ordeal that is procuring groceries and household supplies. Before the COVID-19 crisis, you could order paper goods to your heart's content online and have them arrive at your door two days later without spending more than three minutes on that particular task. Now, working parents who also need to stock their homes have to sink hours, in some cases, into snagging online grocery slots and hunting for basics like toilet paper and household cleaners.

All told, working parents have a lot on their plates right now, and to be fair, non-parents don't exactly have it easy, either. Sure, they may have their days to themselves to focus on work tasks, but many are still adjusting to their remote setups while devoting hours each week to the wild goose chase that is finding food and supplies. As such, a large chunk of the U.S. workforce risks burnout right now, and employers and employees need to work together to stop it.

Nipping burnout in the bud

When the country is deep in the throes of a health crisis, the last thing you need is a mental health crisis to make personal matters worse. If you're struggling to balance work, home, and child care responsibilities, talk to your employer about it. Explain your circumstances and ask for some leeway in the coming weeks to push back deadlines or maintain more flexibility during the workday, when your kids are most apt to demand attention. There's no shame in admitting you can't do it all, and openly asking for help could be your ticket to a lightened loan -- and less stress.

As an employer, it pays to proactively offer to help those employees who may be struggling. For starters, that means cutting parents of young children some slack. Granted, at a time like this, it would be nice to cut all workers some slack, but start with the people who may simply not have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Along these lines, it helps to reassure your employees that their performance over the next month or so won't be the benchmark they're judged on with regard to raises and promotions. Making that abundantly clear will take a lot of the pressure off, and perhaps allow your employees to better focus on their jobs without wasting mental energy stressing about their long-term prospects.

It's not easy juggling different responsibilities that compete for your time, and it's especially not easy during a pandemic when health concerns and additional challenges come to a head. If your goal is to avoid burnout, tell your employer what support you need to keep doing your job as best as you can. And if you want to help your employees avoid burnout, cut them as much slack as possible. You can impose stricter standards when things normalize, but for now, it's important to recognize that everyone is functioning in survival mode and therefore worthy of a break.

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