When we have too much on our plate and don’t get enough of a break from stress, we start to feel exhausted and disengaged with our work. This decrease in self-efficacy and satisfaction is what we feel when we are experiencing ‘burnout.’
Many of us think of overwork as the primary source of burnout, but boundary violations are also often a significant contributing factor (Rapp et al., 2021). These boundary violations occur when the boundaries that separate work life and home life break down, disallowing us enough time to psychologically separate ourselves from work to fully enjoy our lives at home. Meaning that, after we have stopped working for the day, it’s good for our mental health to cease ruminating on any future tasks, current projects, or emails we haven’t answered yet.
The recent increase of telework due to the ongoing pandemic has greatly increased difficulty for many workers to adequately distance themselves from their work. Many are experiencing these work-life boundary violations more often than ever.
Telework physically blurs the line between being at work and being at home, which poses some challenges. When you work in the same space you live, you might find it more difficult to mentally separate yourself from work tasks when you should be concentrating on non-work roles. It can prevent you from relaxing and recovering from stress, possibly leading to long-term negative effects.
The constant strain between these two aspects of our lives can cause burnout. But, employing boundary management can mitigate the negative effects (Sonnentag et al., 2010).
Boundary management is how we design and maintain boundaries to navigate the different roles we have in our lives (Ashford et al., 2000). Every day, we inhabit different personas (such as employee, friend, or parent) that involve different goals. We are likely not going to behave around a significant other, friend, or child the same way we do around the employees we manage at work. There are unique norms and values associated with each identity, and effective boundary management helps us transition between them.
Researchers at South Florida University investigated the boundary management strategies remote workers use to disengage from work to reduce burnout (Allen et al., 2021).
When you work from home, one step you can take is thoughtfully managing your time between work and nonwork. Establishing rules for when you start working and end can help you more smoothly adjust between a workplace mindset and a home mindset. Additionally, carving out designated times to take breaks gives you a respite for mental rest (Allen et al., 2021).
Another useful strategy is to create and dedicate a space specifically to being your ‘office.’ This could be an entire room, or a designated corner of a room. Ideally, it should be as separate as possible. Whenever you are not working, you should do what you can to stay out of your ‘office.’ This could even be sitting in a different chair in your kitchen from the one you normally use to work. It allows you to ‘go to’ work at the beginning of your workday and ‘leave’ work at the end (Allen et al., 2021).
Finally, you can use technology to your advantage. Rather than allowing technology’s instant access to communication to blur your boundaries, you can use technological features to help you manage them. Allen et al. (2021) found that some workers used apps to remind them to stop working. Others used different profiles while browsing the internet to limit potential exposure to communication from coworkers. Some completely turned off their devices after letting colleagues know they would not be reachable during certain times.
Though specific strategies to set boundaries differ from person to person, it’s important for many of us to find tactics that allow us to successfully disconnect from work. When we design spaces that allow us to relax or inhabit other important roles in our lives, we can prevent ourselves from excessive stress and burnout.
Allen, T. D., Merlo, K., Lawrence, R. C., Slutsky, J., & Gray, C. E. (2021). Boundary
management and work-nonwork balance while working from home. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 70(1), 60-84.
Ashford, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., Fugate, M. (2000). All in a day’s work: Boundaries and micro role transitions. The Academy of Management Review, 25(3), 472-491.
Rapp, D. J., Hughey, J. M., & Kreiner, G. E. (2021). Boundary work as a buffer against burnout:
Evidence from healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(8), 1169-1187.
Sonnentag, S., Kuttler, I., & Fritz, C. (2010). Job stressors, emotional exhaustion, and need for recovery: A multi-source study on the benefits of psychological detachment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76(3), 355-365.