How to Conquer Work from Home Guilt

Your kids need help with their schoolwork. Yet, you’ve got a project deliverable that is due before the day ends. Do you work late, again, to ensure you meet your deadline and help your kids with their homeschooling? What if you miss the deadline? At the same time, you don’t want your kids to fall behind in their schoolwork.


Unexpectedly, working from home can trigger feelings of guilt. Work from home guilt spirals some employees’ emotions into negative feelings about themselves. It even causes some to doubt their performance.


COVID has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. The two worlds collide daily, causing friction from competing demands: homeschooling, parenting, working, spending time with family, with one’s significant other, and caring for one’s self.


Navigating the competing demands causes some to worry that managers think employees aren’t working during the day. As the guilt creeps in, employees choose to work longer hours to counteract the negative feelings. However, a vicious cycle develops. It undermines performance, employee morale, and, for some, creates conflicts at home.


Consequences of Unresolved Work from Home Guilt

The consequences of work from home guilt are real workplace issues.

  • Quality time with family and friends is prioritized lower than work
  • Stress undermines cognitive capabilities; performance declines
  • Negative assumptions about one’s performance are believed, unchallenged
  • Employee morale and engagement suffer
  • Absenteeism increases
  • Presenteeism causes productivity losses, declining or worsening health issues


Leaders must be prepared to address the issues to maintain the credibility of a remote work program. More importantly, addressing these consequences will help the workforce develop a healthy view of their contributions in these uncertain times.


Remotely working is often viewed as a positive benefit. It does, though, come with some issues that companies need to address proactively. If the consequences are not mitigated, managers who believe it doesn’t work will only have their concerns confirmed. This is unhelpful. Worse, it is unhealthy and damages the company culture and the relationship between management and employees.


Shine a Bright Light on Work from Home Guilt

In one study, 46% of workers feel the pressure to prove they are productive when working from home. I assert that it’s likely high performers suffer the most from the guilty feelings. And often, the pressure is self-inflicted. It’s not always overtly expressed by a manager.


What makes guilt hard to address is the conflicting, negative emotions that accompany it. So, it’s hard to discuss. This, however, is what needs to happen. Naming the problem helps with solving it.


The best solution is for employees to discuss their feelings without judgment. Here are some ways employees can deal with the guilt.

  • Ensure that your manager understands your at-home realities. Ensure she knows what your competing demands are—homeschooling, caring for an elderly parent, for example.
  • Agree on success measures. Time is hardly a good measure of productivity. Delivering quality work is the best productivity measure.
  • When feelings of guilt surface, simply note it. Say, “I’m feeling guilty right now.” Avoid saying, “I’m not doing good work. I’m too distracted, and I’m sure my boss sees it.”


Managers also have a role in squashing the guilt spiral.

  • Meet one-on-one with employees. Make sure they know how they are performing. If you’re pleased with their performance, let employees know. If you have performance concerns, address them immediately. Develop a plan to improve low performance and review progress often.
  • Meet with company leaders to organize online webinars that help employees manage their mental wellbeing
  • Ask employees what you can do to help them be successful while working remotely.


Many companies will be working remotely well into the new year. (Google announced that employees aren’t returning to the office until June 2021.) Don’t let problems, like guilt, fester and go unresolved.


We all deal with stress and change differently. It was once said, “You never know what someone is dealing with behind closed doors. You only know what you see or think you see.” So, the best response is to be empathetic, kind, and be understanding.

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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