How to Manage Employee Burnout in Remote Workplaces


If employee burnout already exists in your organization, the typical advice of offering perks like gym memberships and more paid time off won’t solve the problem.

Perks and benefits are excellent tools to enhance the employee experience, but they won’t solve employee burnout. The key to solving employee burnout is to improve the company culture.

The tricky part about managing a remote workforce as an HR leader is that what is affecting the health of the company culture isn’t always obvious until it’s too late. Often, the unwelcome surprises of employees taking leave due to burnout or high attrition rates are what prompts action to solve burnout. The earlier signs of burnout can be difficult to see in remote environments than in person, and managers may not pass along what they’re witnessing in their teams.

Burnout needs to be solved proactively with a preventative approach. This post will discuss how elements of a toxic work culture can creep into remote workforces, how to identify problem areas of your remote culture, and solutions to prevent employee burnout and build a healthy culture in your remote organization.

December is now known as Remote Worker Wellness Month – promote this easily at your remote company!

Why Solving Employee Burnout Is Particularly Challenging in Remote Workplaces

Solving employee burnout in remote workplaces is much more challenging than in-office settings for four key reasons:

  • There are fewer opportunities to read body language and identify burnout early.
  • Employees feel guilty taking breaks – even at lunchtime.
  • Many remote employees experience feelings of loneliness, which creates a negative mental state that accelerates burnout.
  • Without face-to-face interactions with their co-workers,employees risk having only surface-level trust with their managers and co-workers, which leads to poor communication.

Let’s discuss each of these issues in more detail.

It’s Difficult to Identify Employee Burnout in Remote Settings Early On

The first reason why employee burnout is particularly challenging to solve in remote workplaces is that there are fewer opportunities to identify when burnout is occurring.

In a remote setting, you can’t glance across the room and read your co-workers’ body language for signs of distress. Many remote companies also have a camera-off culture during meetings, removing the only opportunity you have to read employee body language. Without this cue to initiate a conversation to check-in on an employee’s wellbeing, an opportunity to intervene early is missed.

Without the in-office opportunities for impromptu discussions, whether approaching employees or them coming to you as an HR leader, you’re relying mainly on written communication and then setting up a video call to talk about the issue. This is not a natural way of communicating for most people when it comes to personal matters, making it highly likely a situation would need to be quite serious before taking these steps.

Remote Employees Typically Don’t Take Enough Breaks

In addition, few remote employees take breaks during the day. Recent studies show that 60% of remote employees feel guilty taking breaks, and 30% of remote employees won’t even take a lunch break.

These challenges are less frequent in office scenarios because employees often take their co-workers’ lead to get up from their desk and make a cup of coffee in the breakroom. Most people also tend to leave the office for lunch, so nobody feels guilty taking a lunch break.

Unfortunately, employees working from home can’t see their co-workers taking breaks. Instead, they see the Slack messages and emails continuously rolling in and assume that if the rest of the team is still working, they also should continue working.

Remote Employees Risk Experiencing Feelings of Loneliness 

Finally, remote employees have very limited interactions with other people during the day.

A study by the Harvard Business Review shows that loneliness is a leading cause of burnout. While in-office employees can talk to their co-workers throughout the day, remote workers may not interact face-to-face with anyone else throughout the workday.

The only interaction employees have with co-workers is written communication and video calls, but these aren’t sufficient substitutes for in-person interactions. Studies show that many employees even find these interactions to be a stressful and generally negative experience.

Finally, because remote employees don’t have serendipitous moments in the breakroom and during lunch hours to connect, they have limited opportunities to develop trusting relationships with their managers outside of job-related interactions.

So if employees feel insecure with their managers, they’re less likely to reach out and ask for help when they start noticing symptoms of burnout.

Why Reactively Managing Employee Burnout Isn’t a Sustainable Solution

If burnout is already happening in your organization, taking action immediately and managing it is imperative. To start, you’ll have to deal with burnout on a case-by-case basis.

While offering PTO and EAP resources won’t solve employee burnout, it’s still necessary to offer this to employees because it will provide some temporary relief.

Some other solutions you could explore with leadership might be:

  • Offering time off
  • Providing an EAP resource
  • Offering half days
  • Reducing workload temporarily

Discuss with leadership whether an employee needs a week off, or whether they can work half days, and get approval to manage burnout in this way — pointing to the costs of a week off now versus the cost of replacing an employee.

Communicate that this is a temporary solution, a means to an end while the organization is transitioning into a proactive approach to burnout. You can use the above suggestions to manage employee burnout (and you’ll have to if burnout already exists in your culture), but we encourage you to shift from focusing on managing employee burnout to solving employee burnout.

There are a few reasons why reactively managing employee burnout is the wrong approach to solving this problem.

First, dealing with each individual employee one on one isn’t scalable, and can quickly eat up the HR team’s time. This places a bottleneck on the HR team’s productivity, and they won’t be able to work on other high value tasks.

In addition, offering PTO, reduced work hours, and other temporary relief decreases general team productivity, which drags company growth and puts more stress on burned out employees’ managers and teammates.

Because burnout points to overall workplace culture challenges and the methods to manage employee burnout only provide temporary relief, this cycle will continue if employees are thrown back into the same toxic work culture that induced the initial burnout.

The above scenario only accounts for the complications involved with managing employee burnout and doesn’t factor in the costs of replacing employees who simply quit or the lost productivity created by empty roles.

Building a Healthy Remote Culture Employee Workforce That Circumvents The Burnout Management Cycle

If you want to stop the burnout cycle altogether, here’s a step-by-step process you can implement today to solve these problems.

Get Buy-In From C-Suite To Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

Getting C-suite executives on board to create a culture that prevents burnout is essential to implement changes successfully.

Many managers may not implement changes if the request doesn’t come directly from C-suite, because they fear executives won’t approve of the recommended changes or don’t see the need to make adjustments.

Unfortunately, the burnout cycle will continue if managers and people leaders don’t implement the changes you present as a solution to prevent burnout.

To achieve buy-in from your C-suite executives, present your case by demonstrating how burnout impacts the company’s bottom line. Show them how much money you’ve lost due to employee churn, recruiting, additional PTO, and a lack of productivity.

While leaders want to see that their employees are happy in their job this alone will not be enough to secure their buy-in. You’ll need to show executives how burnout prevention will help them achieve their goals (e.g. improving the company’s revenue).

Enlist The Help of Managers In Identifying and Tracking Employee Burnout

As a member of HR, you can’t personally monitor each employee for burnout symptoms, but managers can, so you’ll need to train your managers on how to identify employee burnout.

In many cases, managers mistake burned-out employees for employees who have turned into a poor performer with lack of (or unregulated) emotions. This is particularly true in remote cultures where managers have limited opportunities to read employee body language and realize when their team member feels burned out.

So the first step is to help managers identify burnout symptoms.

For example, you can ask managers to execute weekly one-on-ones and dedicate a portion of the meeting to general employee well-being. They might ask questions like:

  • How do you feel about your current workload?
  • How satisfied are you with your current projects?
  • Are you getting the support you need from your teammates to do your job effectively?

This will help managers recognize burnout, and the simple act of asking employees about their well-being helps them realize that you genuinely care about emotional and mental health.

When employees realize you genuinely care about their well-being, they’re more likely to open up and express feelings of burnout, which often provides some temporary relief for them.

Another option is to use a tool that sends automated monthly or quarterly surveys asking employees asking specific questions around their overall well-being and job satisfaction. This could be in addition to, or in tandem with eNPS surveys. This way, managers can quantitatively track employee morale and use the data to identify patterns and improve the employee well-being strategy.

You can also invest in training programs that teach managers to identify employee burnout in remote environments. It’s also important to regularly check in with managers and ask for feedback to ensure they’re implementing the program, and to help you identify larger cultural issues across the company.

During these conversations, ask managers how they’re feeling, as their well-being is critical. If managers are burned out, the negative emotions will trickle down throughout the rest of the organization.

Develop a Strategy To Solve The Identified Culture Problems

Now that you have a system to identify cultural problems, the next step is to solve them.

Some cultural issues can be solved with a simple conversation. For example, if employees feel burned out because of too many meetings, you could negotiate with management to step away from the idea of meetings being required to be productive, and then restructure the way work is assigned and how the team collaborates to reduce the amount of meetings.

However, some cultural issues stem from general distrust or feelings of isolation because employees don’t have solid relationships with their co-workers. And some are due to employees not being able to sustainably live up to managers’ expectations when it comes to workload. This could be a strong indication of ‘grind culture’ where working hard and long hours at the expense of health is glorified.

Weak relationships are particularly common in remote cultures where employees don’t have the opportunity to interact with one another face-to-face. With limited body language signals and the absence of serendipitous conversations in the break room, it takes much longer to build relationships with co-workers virtually.

To improve employee relationships and build trust among the team, here are a few excellent culture-building activities for remote teams:

  • Virtual social hours: You can use a tool like to organize virtual dinners, lunches, or drinks for employees.
  • Group well-being activities: You can use a tool like Bright Breaks to allow employees to take seven-minute breaks to attend virtual activities, like meditation or yoga, with their co-workers. Most remote employees feel guilty taking breaks during the day, but failing to do so leads to burnout. So Bright Breaks helps employees take seven-minute scheduled breaks which are totally guilt-free.
  • Wellness challenges: You can engage your team in friendly competition while encouraging them to improve their well-being. This will inspire collaboration amongst co-workers outside of their usual work tasks. Host a challenge for your team through a step challenge app, or on Bright Breaks.

The key to great culture-building activities is to ensure it’s relatively easy for everyone to participate in, low-stress, and something that employees genuinely enjoy.

It’s also worth noting that while the occasional culture-building session helps build your team’s culture, it’s important to have initiatives built into the company’s daily processes.

This is a key reason Bright Breaks is helpful: they’re just seven-minute breaks that employees can attend together. They require very little time and effort for employees to attend, and they’re an excellent opportunity for co-workers to interact with each other daily.

Measure Results And Continuously Improve

Like any strategy, your new HR strategy won’t be perfect on the first iteration, and you’ll have to continuously develop it as the team grows and changes. Collect qualitative and quantitative feedback from employees to learn how to optimize your strategy over time.

Sending out long-form surveys every annually or quarterly is also a critical part of the feedback collection process, as these surveys provide deeper insights into what employees like/dislike about the strategy and help you track employee happiness and engagement over time.

It’s also a good idea to run one-on-one meetings with managers monthly or quarterly to learn how the strategy is working for their team and collect feedback. Keeping an open line of communication with managers is also a great way to ensure they continue to act as culture champions and promote your strategy.

Once you’ve collected the feedback, look for patterns in the data and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Take Action To Prevent Employee Burnout Rather Than Managing It

Reactively managing employee burnout isn’t sustainable and will ultimately lead to high attrition rates, negative employee reviews, and poor general employee performance.

While you’ll have to deal with burned-out employees on a case-by-case basis, you’ll need to work on ideating and executing a solution to end the employee burnout problem altogether.

This is a key reason why we created Bright Breaks.

We realized employees feel guilty taking breaks during the day, so we created a solution where employees can integrate seven-minute breaks into their day to unwind and connect with co-workers.

This helps people stay more focused throughout the day and prevents the burnout caused by being glued to their tasks and screens all day.

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