Managing stress and burnout in the virtual workplace: Creating a culture of wellness

Carissa Smock, PhD, MPH

Burnout and stress tend to increase when employees are not certain if they are contributing enough and therefore tend to work around the clock. In fact, studies show that people who work from home tend to work more than those in the office. There are however ways to manage and reduce stress and burnout in the virtual workplace by actively working to create a culture of wellness.

Employees need to feel assured that their wellbeing is the top priority. They need to know that leaving their computer to go for a physical activity or nature break is OK and encouraged. Helping employees focus on being strategic with their wellness and their productivity by acknowledging instances in which going for a walk may be more productive than staring at a screen is a helpful start. This might be after a long duration of working, when experiencing writers block, or brainstorming the solution to a problem.

Time in nature and physical activity matter

Spending time in nature and physical activity not only reduce stress and increase immune system response during this pandemic, but can also make for better workers. It is so very important that folks focus on these actions that they can do to reduce stress during the pandemic– but it is important to acknowledge that it is not this simple for everyone and offer a variety of support for engaging in time and nature.

Offer strategies for how to be most productive in less time

More productive does not equal more time working. Many employees can be more productive from home with research  showing that virtual employees accomplish 30% more in less time. Some of these productivity strategies include scheduling focused tasks such as writing or data analytics earlier in the day, scheduling meetings later in the day when possible, and allowing for blocks of time to answer email with periods of time to turn alerts off, and – taking nature and physical activity breaks.

Nix procrastination

Share with employees how chipping away at a project tends to be more productive and less stressful as the pressure to come up with an idea quickly is taken away allowing for more creative thinking. Studies also show that employees tend to think of solutions when they are in relaxed settings, such as on a run or in the shower, and therefore more ready to get back to work on the project. Work with employees to schedule feasible timelines with specific micro-goals and dedicated, calendared time.

Set boundaries

To reduce stress, set boundaries and expectations for the duration of meetings, weekends and evenings (or other days/times off), email response time, and unplanned meetings so that it is clear to employees that they do not need to be on call all of the time. They need to know they have the space to and time to focus on wellness and being productive at their jobs. It can also be difficult to unplug and differentiate personal time and work time. Help employees change their physical setting, calendar tasks for each day, including wellness activities, block personal time, and plan an unwinding activity, such as a walk, to help transition from work to personal time. 


Encourage flexibility

Allow employees to use strategic time management strategies to create their own routine that allows them to reach their highest level of wellness and productivity. This routine may need to change around seasons, childcare, health, or say; a pandemic. Help identify barriers to wellness activities or productivity through trainings and resources on meal prepping, planned snacks, exercise and nature breaks and work to break those barriers down. Flexibility not only allows employees to engage in wellness activities and increase productivity, it is shown to reduces stress and help achieve better work-life balance.