Personality, remote working and burnout

Depending on your personality, working from home can be fantastic or a living hell. In Chapter 3, I discussed how we all have our own unique personality profile. Some of us are extroverted, are open to novel ideas and ways of working, and are agreeable in our dealings with others (to mention just three from the big five model). Others are introverted, don’t like change and are disagreeable when asked to do something they don’t want to do.

These personality factors have a potent influence on our behaviour, but they don’t determine it entirely. To adapt, we learn to change our behaviour. Disagreeable people learn how to compromise, or at least to be more diplomatic in their conversations. More agreeable colleagues learn to be more assertive, even if being assertive makes them feel uncomfortable. This is an important point, because behaving in a manner that doesn’t fit with our core personality make-up is exhausting. An extrovert loves giving a presentation because it gives them energy. They get a buzz from it and feel excited afterwards. An introvert can give a similarly good presentation, but will feel anxious during the presentation and drained afterwards.

We have all built up strategies over the years to manage those situations that we find difficult. We have developed our own psychological and emotional scaffolding to support the parts of our personality that lack strength in certain situations. For example, many people who are not very conscientious gravitate to highly structured corporate organisations that help them manage the disorganised and ‘lazy’ aspects of their personality. They enjoy structure, routines and being told what to do. These rigid structures are like a psychological scaffolding holding the persona together. A good example is the military. This is why some veterans struggle with civilian life, when the military ‘scaffolding’ is absent.

The problem is that in times of crisis and change our psychological scaffolding gets dismantled. An extroverted person is likely to feel deprived of the social energy that keeps their spirits up when their work-based social life becomes 20 seconds of “How are you?” at the start of each Zoom call. Similarly, an introverted person gets deprived of the ‘me time’ they need in order to recharge emotionally when they have to attend back-to-back Zoom calls, with no commute in between to be alone with their thoughts and de-stress.

In this way, a person’s personality can contribute to the development of burnout when working remotely.

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