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What Leaders Should Know About Work-at-Home Fatigue

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Have you noticed a recent drop in the number of articles and webinars about working at home? For months it seems we were inundated with offers to attend how-to seminars, best practice webinars, and other presentations about operating a successful work at home program. Now, it appears we all adapted smartly to the work at home model, and all is good. There is nothing left to talk about.

Yet, results from interviews with over forty contact center executives and site leaders provide an entirely different view. Many leaders have indicated their workforces are experiencing fatigue, and they are noticing declining engagement, deteriorating performance, and rising attrition. For many, it seems that far from being “all good,” things are a bit tenuous. Interestingly, work at home fatigue seems to be impacting management along with the front line. If you are in management and you feel fatigued, you are not alone.

What is fatigue and why worry about it?

“Work fatigue” is the extreme mental and emotional tiredness we feel both during and especially at the end of the workday. Fatigue reduces enthusiasm for the work at hand, leading inevitably to an intention to quit. We also know from our 5th Talent research results that you can’t both intend to quit and intend to engage with others. Therefore, though many fatigued employees do not exit their organizations, they are more likely to gradually disengage from the company and “phone it in,” both with their team members and their customers. In short, organizational fatigue eventually produces both lower customer engagement and higher employee attrition.

Is there such a thing as work at home fatigue?

Absolutely. Work at home fatigue is an extension of work fatigue where the added frustrations accompanying the virtual environment compound the condition. It is felt more by those who previously worked in an office and who were suddenly forced to work at home. However, fatigue can also affect those who have always worked at home because of unique frustrations arising from working virtually with their current company.

What about quarantine fatigue?

We shouldn’t confuse work at home fatigue with “quarantine fatigue,” also known as “lockdown fatigue,” “pandemic fatigue,” and “COVID fatigue.” Quarantine fatigue is the weariness resulting from pandemic-related restrictions on movement and socialization, as well as from stress and concern about contracting the virus. Quarantine fatigue can certainly accelerate work at home fatigue by limiting the opportunity to engage in personal stress reduction strategies. However, a significant reduction in quarantine restrictions will likely only equate to a minor reduction in work at home fatigue. To effectively lessen work at home fatigue the underlying drivers of it need to be addressed directly.

What drives work at home fatigue?

Even when quarantines are lifted, one or more of six drivers might continue to act as a mental and emotional drain on the workforce. Perhaps discussions based on the following list and some simple changes can provide needed uplift for your organization.

  • Role Ambiguity – the uncertainty of how to add value while working at home, including continual questioning of oneself and worry about meeting unstated expectations.

  • Role Overload – arising from loss of start and stop limits to the workday, which leads to a growing backlog of tasks and increased work hours.

  • Technology Exhaustion – resulting from constant interaction with technology to complete work tasks that wears out the human mind from living in a two-dimensional environment.

  • Work-Home Barrier Permeation – the added effort from managing the flow of one world into the other.

  • Social Isolation – from limited meaningful interaction with others that creates a sense of disconnectedness and a desire to disengage.

  • Poor Sleep Quality – disrupted rest resulting in next-day consequences for reduced mental and emotional functioning. This one is exacerbated by all the above drivers, as well as the pandemic itself.

Consider for a moment the impact from all six of these drivers operating at the same time, even a little bit each. For example, suppose that a person feels like they might be underperforming due to the perception of unstated expectations, and therefore they take on more tasks, which are completed entirely through technology. Meanwhile, they are juggling unique home life issues to get those tasks done, all the while feeling a bit socially isolated, which in total has triggered occasional sleep issues.

Working at home relieves some challenges from working in an office setting (such as commuting). Yet, it can bring on other challenges that have an equal or greater impact on the workforce. By consciously addressing these six drivers through our Excelling at Home course, leaders can help future proof their workforce from the spiraling effects of work at home fatigue.


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