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How to Disconnect After Work to Avoid Burnout

How difficult is it for you to wind down after work?

Moreover, how hard is it for you to stop thinking about work after you leave it? 

Most of us work a typical 8-hour workday (40-hour work week), which can encompass everything from shift work to office-bound roles and more. If we’re lucky, we may only spend one-third of our lives working, hopefully pursuing roles and careers we’re genuinely passionate about. 

Between overtime, work events and checking in after the usual ‘work hours,’ that one-third increases, which means we may spend a significant portion of our lives tuned into work (even when it's over for the day). 

All of this can quickly result in burnout, a now common syndrome stemming from chronic work-related stress and anxiety. Burnout is growing increasingly more prevalent among larger workforces like millenials, where 7 in 10 millennial employees report experiencing some level of burnout at work. 

If burnout is so prevalent, how can we mitigate the risks and avoid taking those symptoms home with us at the end of each workday?

Start by looking at your relationship with technology 

Workplace stress costs companies, on average, between $125-$190 million annually. 

Further, 95% of HR leaders report burnout as a key sabotager for workforce retention; this results in a storm of chronic burnout issues which organizations have to mitigate to retain their top talent while prioritizing employee wellness. 

Part of the problem with work-related burnout is the constant connection employees have with work-related tech, in addition to the tools they use for personal reasons, such as social media. 

For example, many organizations supply employees with work phones, laptops, tablets, and other tech devices, and some expect teams to take these devices home with them. There may not be a ‘spoken rule’ of checking these devices frequently while at home, but many employees may feel pressured to do so, checking emails or accepting phone calls outside of regular working hours, which interferes with both personal and family life

Surveys have shown that 80% of millennials take their phones and other devices to bed with them, checking both work and social-related platforms for an average of 75 minutes before sleeping. How can organizations ensure employees have a healthy relationship with their work tech? 

It’s okay to say ‘no’ to burnout

Saying ‘no’ to burnout sounds ‘easier said than done.’ 

Most of us have probably said ‘yes’ to work-related commitments or tasks when what we’ve wanted to say is ‘no,’ even when we’re aware such commitments will contribute to our feelings of stress or burnout. 

Saying ‘no,’ however, can be more beneficial than saying yes.  When it comes to goal-directed behaviour, not always expecting a ‘yes’ can encourage teams to achieve the behaviour their organization wants as opposed to performing work or tasks that employees aren’t truly passionate about. 

The same can be said for disconnecting from work. There has to be a balance between productivity and burnout, which is why the language we use to turn down commitments or tasks is so important. For example, saying ‘no’ to checking emails after working hours, taking work tech home with us, or spending down-time on work-related projects.

According to the New York Times, using words or terms such as ‘I can’t’ sound excusable, whereas phrases like ‘I don’t’ or ‘I won’t’ denote certain limitations or boundaries you’ve set. This small yet significant change in how we say ‘no’ can be more effective than saying ‘yes’ even when we know we shouldn’t. 

For leaders, this also means creating workplace environments where their people feel comfortable saying ‘no’ to those things that cause, or otherwise contribute to, their burnout and work-related stress. 

Consider whether your team needs more tech

According to studies conducted by Gallup, just 19% of employees and managers agree that there’s a need to discuss new technologies and tools for workplace productivity. With all of the innovative tech solutions and devices available to us, it can be challenging to choose just one or a few to use. 

But do we really need more tech?

For the most part, introducing new tech into the workplace fails to improve or increase productivity, as tech is often poorly integrated into established work patterns. With all of the existing tech that employees have to work with, it is unlikely teams will adapt to new tech, thus making their use less agile. 

That may be why less than 28% of employees discuss the innovation and use of new tech among their teams!

If you’re considering introducing new technology or tools into your workplace, first ask yourself a few key questions, such as:

  • What is the purpose of the new tech, and how do you envision using it? 
  • How will you integrate the new tech into your teams’ established workflows?
  • Will the tech benefit employee productivity and engagement? 
  • Have you asked your employees what tech they need versus what tech you may want them to use? 
  • How agile is this new technology? Can it adapt to and work cohesively with your existing tech or tools?

By assessing the pros and cons of new tech, you can better determine whether the use and cost will lend to the overall productivity and goals of your organization. 

How can we ‘shut off’ after work?

The effects of burnout are not always apparent, both to leaders and the teams who experience this syndrome. Gallup found that 23% of employees report frequently feeling burnout at work, while employees who experience burnout in the workplace are 63% more likely to take regular sick days and 2.6 times as likely to search for a more balanced job.

Shutting off or disconnecting after work is not only crucial for the overall health of your organization but the individual well-being of its employees. If we’re constantly connected to work, we run the risk of growing more disengaged and less passionate about our contributions. 

How, then, can we disconnect from work at the end of the workday?

Keep your work tech and personal tech separate

Many of us add our professional email accounts and work tools to our personal devices so that we can stay up to date outside of work. While this may be easier for some than others, keeping your work and personal tech separate ensures you can ‘shut off’ from work.

Embrace ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode

Push notifications and nudges are great, but when unwinding after work, receiving consistent work-related notifications can feel overwhelming or produce a sense of ‘guilt’ for not working around the clock. Consider putting your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode or disabling notifications after certain times in the day/night. 

Create a ‘transition’ ritual 

How often have you left work for the day and promptly checked your phone or email at home for any work-related updates? When we’re always connected to our tech, it can be challenging to unwind and ‘shut down’ for the night. A ‘transition’ ritual can help you disconnect and get the rest you need to be your most productive self, tomorrow. 

That’s crucial, given that the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep to function optimally! Transition rituals are any small tasks or habits you can do before resting or relaxing that remove you from those things that cause stress or anxiety. For example, washing a few dishes or going for a walk can help your brain disconnect from stress-related thoughts. 

Take a break from media, but if you can’t, make it funny media 

We’ve all heard the adage that laughter is the best medicine. While laughter can help to relieve stress, most studies and science point specifically to the positive results and benefits of laughter in and outside of the workplace. If you enjoy watching television or checking social media before bed, consider watching something lighthearted and funny, like a clip from your favourite stand-up comedian (or that cute cat-video you love). Inducing laughter can help us unwind, relax, and destress!


Leadership Tip: Ensure your teams know that they do not need to take their work home with them and that work-related tech is just that: work-related! Given that 1 in 5 engaged employees is at risk of burnout in the workplace, with burnout being a significant driver of employee turnover, leadership should proactively encourage their teams to disconnect from work at the end of each workday!

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