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How Finance Teams Can Manage and Prevent WFH Burnout

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Remember traffic, packed subway commutes to the office and tight deadlines that had you working late enough times to know the night cleaning staff by name? With office shutdowns for a year and counting now, it seems office life as we once knew it is already long gone and may likely never return to its pre-pandemic pace. But while the global pandemic changed everything in 2020 and may have even signalled the end of the rat race, it seems it also triggered a different kind of burnout for finance and operations professionals and it's happening because of working from home.

A recent article in The Globe and Mail revealed that the pandemic is causing breakdowns, burnouts and emotional exhaustion and that it's white collar workers, in particular, who are feeling it most.

The article said, "Nearly a year into physical separation from colleagues, bosses and clients--sometimes coupled with kids trapped at home--white collar professionals are cracking. Often, top performers who tend to push through the pain are those who are struggling the most."

And surprisingly, it's those top performers who are also considering leaving their jobs altogether. The article quoted findings from a recent Morneau Shepell survey that said 40% of managers in finance and professional services have considered leaving their jobs since the pandemic started.  

This might be unexpected, as the article suggests, given that it was white collar workers who were expected to be doing the best throughout the pandemic since their jobs were protected from the economic downturn of the past year. Many of them in industries such as finance, tech, law and accounting also had the flexibility to work from their homes or vacation properties. Yet for many white collar professionals, the struggle is real and as the article suggests, "there isn't an obvious reason why they are feeling this way now."

Factors Contributing to Burnout

Another study suggested that certain job functions, such as finance and accounting (66.7%) and business strategy/operations (64.1%), were more prone to burnout during the pandemic than others. The lack of separation between work and home life, unmanageable workloads, lack of support from management and lack of control over work were some of the factors contributing to the increase in burnout among these working professionals.

This Forbes article on how to deal with COVID-19 burnout at work highlighted findings from a July MetLife report on the mental health of the U.S. workforce. The report revealed that 64% of employees claimed feeling the symptoms of burnout as defined by the World Health Organization. These symptoms of burnout can include feeling:

  • Emotionally and/or physically drained
  • Mentally checked out at work
  • Excessive pressure to succeed 
  • The need to hide personal concerns while at work

But sometimes it can be difficult to identify exactly what stress looks like and how it feels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published this article on how to cope with job stress and build resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and identified the following as symptoms of stress: 

  • Feeling irritation, anger or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

The article also outlined the following common work-related factors that can add to stress during this pandemic:

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
  • Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

Everyone reacts to stress differently. And it's how you cope with stress and emotions that not only affects your well-being, but also the well-being of those around you--at home and in the workplace. By taking the necessary steps to manage your workplace stress, building your resilience and knowing when and where you need to go if you need help are key to coping with job stress during these challenging times.

Tips To Manage WFH-Related Stress

1. Acknowledge the Problem

Tracey Ferstler, an expert quoted in the Forbes article recommended this as the first step in recognizing and managing the harmful effects of burnout because as she said, "If not, you can end up in a full-blown mental health crisis."

In fact, many often underestimate the severity of their struggles with burnout. But if you are concerned about your mental health and whether the symptoms you are experiencing are mild or potentially an indicator of a more serious condition, taking an online mental health screen like this one can help you determine if you need help.

2. Communicate With Your Managers and Teams

Be open with your managers and coworkers about how the pandemic is affecting your work. Once you can identify some of the reasons causing stress, you can work together to find solutions. For example, don't be afraid to ask for flexibility. A flexible schedule can help you balance your work and life responsibilities.

Having open discussions and asking for help can also point you in the direction of where you can access the mental health resources available in your workplace. Some companies may even be offering additional mental health benefits that weren't provided before the pandemic.

3. Use Tools That Can Help You and Your Teams Streamline Finance-Led Processes

During these times of change, keeping things under control at work and at home can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. That's where modern technologies and tools can help. Designed to improve core finance and business processes, reduce the likelihood of error, create a more agile finance function and enable team collaboration--no matter where they are--these tools can help automate manual tasks, increase cross-departmental transparency, reduce stress and free up your time to focus on more important matters, whether that's closing your month-end faster or taking a much needed break throughout the day.


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4. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Just because you're home 24-7 these days doesn't mean you have to be available to work around the clock too. Work demands and stress can easily interfere with your home life so it's important to establish work-life boundaries.

If you can, set up a dedicated work space in your home. It's also important to develop a consistent routine. This involves setting up a regular time to start and end your work day. Turn off any work-related notifications so you won't be tempted to check work emails. Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise or go for a walk so you can get a change of scenery. It's also easy to work through your lunch when you're at home so make an effort to not schedule any meetings around your lunch time. Looking to decrease stress throughout the day? Breathing exercises and practicing mindfulness can go a long way in helping you manage stress.

Working Together While Staying Apart

Remote work has become a necessity for many office-based companies throughout this pandemic. As finance and operations professionals continue to navigate new ways of working, it's important to regularly check in on your colleagues, teammates and others to see how they're doing. Chances are, you're not alone in feeling anxious, overwhelmed and stressed out about work, home life and everything else that goes along with living through a pandemic.

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