Burning the midnight oil may be hurting you.
With many workers across the globe choosing to continue to work from home, the boundary between work life and home life has blurred. It's easy to feel like you constantly need to be logging on and responding to emails as quickly as possible when your laptop and work phone are always within arm's reach.
However, this mindset can often lead to overworking or burnout. You are not allowing yourself to properly check out and relax, and this virtual presenteeism can be harmful to your physical and mental health.
What is virtual presenteeism?
Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism whereby employees continue to show up to work and power through even when they're feeling unwell and in poor health. Virtual presenteeism, therefore, is when this continuation of work happens, well, virtually.
Eighty per cent of UK employees work when sick, with presenteeism most common among younger workers. Now, with more people working from home than ever before due to the COVID-19 outbreak, even more workers are at risk of virtual presenteeism. However, just because you're able to work longer hours doesn't mean you should.
Why you should stick to normal work hours
Working from home can be difficult to navigate. With 24-hour access to your laptop, emails and work phone, it can be tough to separate what is 'work time' and what is 'home time'. What can start out as innocently checking your work phone or emails outside of your normal work hours can quickly turn into several extra hours of work.
Add in current concerns over job security and the feeling of needing to prove that you're working just as hard at home as you would be in the office, and you'll likely fall victim to a case of virtual presenteeism. It may seem harmless (or even productive), but overworking yourself can have a negative impact on your health.
According to Amanda Augustine, careers expert for TopCV, 'Working long hours when it's unnecessary or logging in to work when your physical or mental health is compromised (i.e. 'virtual' presenteeism) will do more harm than good to both you and your employer. Presenteeism, even from the comfort of your flat, often results in reduced productivity, lowered morale and ‒ ultimately ‒ burnout.'
This doesn't mean you can't be flexible with your hours if your employer permits it, though. For instance, you can break up your day into work 'blocks' rather than trying to force yourself to sit in front of your laptop for eight hours straight. Or, if you find you're more productive in the morning, jump online early, work through the morning and then finish up earlier than usual. If you're a night owl, schedule the bulk of your work hours to be in the afternoon or evening.
It's all about finding what works for you. The most important thing is that once you've hit your standard hours for the day, you pack up, switch off and relax.
Why it's better to switch off than power through
Giving your body and mind time to relax and refocus can help to avoid work burnout, a condition that is now so commonplace in workplace culture that in 2019, it was classified as a diagnosable syndrome by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is characterised by exhaustion, reduced productivity, and feelings of negativity and distance towards one's job. Evidently, the presenteeism linked to burnout is helpful to neither you nor your employer.
When you're spending more time at home than ever before, it's crucial to actively monitor and manage your working hours to avoid additional, unnecessary stressors that could impact your mental and physical health. That means drawing the line and removing yourself from work when the day is done.
How to avoid virtual presenteeism when working from home
Create a new 'work' routine
Routines can be hard to stick to, especially when you're at home and facing multiple distractions such as TV, YouTube, family members, pets ‒ you name it. However, the sooner you establish a routine for working from home, the easier it will be to separate your work mindset from your home mindset.
Create a routine that is realistic for your lifestyle. Then, Augustine advises the following to make the transition easy: 'Once you and your manager have agreed to this new schedule, share your availability with your colleagues, reschedule meetings if necessary and block off time in your diary when you plan to be offline.'
Even a 15-minute break during your working day can improve your productivity, mood and stress levels. Block off a couple of small breaks in your diary to get away from your home office. If you don't regularly take a lunch break away from your computer screen, consider giving it a go a few days a week.
In addition, don't be afraid to use some of your annual leave to take a 'staycation' ‒ just because you're stuck in your home doesn't mean you can't take a day off of work to process all that is going on in the world and focus on your well-being.
Use physical cues
Sometimes, physical cues can help our brains to know when it's time to switch off. For example, shutting down your laptop and packing it into a drawer at the end of the workday could be enough to signal to your brain that it's time to switch to 'home mode'.
You could also try wearing a certain item of clothing such as a blazer during your work time ‒ a work uniform, if you will ‒ and then taking it off as soon as it's time to log off. These small routines, when carried out daily, can be helpful cues to help you switch between what is work time and what is home time.
There's no right or wrong way to work from home, and every day might be different. It's all about finding a routine that works for you and, most importantly, allowing yourself the time and space to switch off. Taking these active steps to avoid virtual presenteeism will help you in the long run.
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