Your Guide to Dealing With Burnout
Burnout is real and it’s becoming as commonplace around the office as memos, zoom meetings and water cooler discussions on the latest Netflix series. Australians are the most burnt out workers in the world according to research completed by recruitment company Adecoo, 53% of Australians have felt burnt out in the past year.
In the wake of the pandemic and working from home, a culture of always being ‘on’ has emerged, blurring the lines between our personal lives and our work lives resulting in higher levels of burn out.
But what exactly is burnout? What is the difference between burnout and stress and how can we stop burnout?
We’re going to cover all these topics and more in our guide to dealing with burnout.
What is Burnout?
Burnout feels like a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s has been around for about 50 years. The term was first coined by American Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger and used to describe consequences of severe stress and high ideals in ‘helping’ professionals. In its original use it mostly referred to doctors and nurses.
These days burnout is recognised in the World Health Organisation as an “occupational phenomenon” in the international classification of diseases. Burnout Syndrome is the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been managed leading to feelings of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.
What is the difference between stress and burnout?
While stress and burnout are closely related, they are not the same thing. Stress is a normal part of being a human being. But the thing that makes stress normal is the duration. Stress is a natural short-term response to danger. It’s the activation of the fight or flight response and it can be healthy, it can get you through a job interview or a presentation.
The problem comes when the stress is ongoing without a break, this can become burnout.
What are the Symptoms of Burnout
Burnout is generally the result of long-term workplace stress. You could be experiencing burn out if you are;
- Feeling exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally
- Unable to perform basic tasks
- Unable to focus or concentrate on your work tasks
- Experiencing feelings of emptiness
- Experiencing a loss of passion and drive
- Finding yourself irritated by little problems
- Getting into conflicts with co-workers
- And withdrawing from your friends and family
What causes Burnout?
Burnout is often associated with ongoing, long-term work stress, some of the factors that can contribute to this are;
- Working in a high-pressure environment
- Dealing with a disorganised work environment
- Being assigned unrealistic KPIs
- Not receiving reward or recognition for your work
- Feeling out of control in the workplace
Tips to help employees avoid Burnout
Companies are sitting up and taking notice of this ongoing workplace phenomenon, with SBS news reporting that stress related work absences and presenteeism (working while sick) is costing the Australian economy 14 billion per year.
In the name of profit loss, staff engagement and healthy workplace culture, companies need to consider how they can help employees to avoid becoming burnt out.
Recognise the signs
Burnout is gradual. So we have time at the beginning to spot the warning signs that you or an employee are feeling burnt out. The Human Resources department should invest some time in educating all departments and employees on the warning signs to look out for so burnout can be addressed before it reaches boiling point.
Here are some warning signs to look for;
- An employee has become unmotivated
- They are not finishing their work on time
- They seem exhausted and drained at work
- They are showing signs of being overwhelmed
If you or an employee spot these warning signs, set a time to do a wellness check with this employee, create a safe and open space where they can discuss how they are feeling.
Discuss with them what can be done to ensure they are supported and have time to recharge their batteries. This could be reducing some of their tasks, approving leave or reviewing their work tasks and offering them a change of work tasks to help them become more engaged and excited about their work.
There are things that can be done to reduce the risk of burning out in the workplace. These preventative measures should be communicated to staff, and where possible the company should provide whatever assistance, they can.
Take Breaks and Days off
In this busy, work-a-day world, it’s not uncommon for people to do unpaid overtime, skip breaks and eat lunch at their desk. After all who has the time to leave the office for a break these days? But this kind of working culture is contributing to burnout.
Employees should take their breaks and should, wherever possible, leave the office for their lunch hour. Getting away from the computer helps people to disconnect for a short time, making them better able to complete the work once they are back.
Employees should also take leave days, or even have a day off when they are feeling mentally exhausted, sometimes just one day off now can mean avoiding a full burnout down the track. To help employees feel able to do this, mental health days should be a recognised option in their sick leave.
Encourage Quarterly Reviews
Taking time to review an employee’s workload, job satisfaction and general well-being every quarter can ensure that they are not on the path to burnout. If their work priorities and tasks have grown substantially, consider if they should pass some lower priority tasks to another employee or if outsourcing is needed to take some of the pressure off.
Employees should take a moment to do a personal stock take every 3 month as well and consider how happy they are with their work/life balance. Are they finding time for their family, friends and hobbies? What kind of adjustments can they take to make time for their priorities outside of work?
These questions can help them re-evaluate their priorities and continue to work towards a healthier balance to ensure they are not headed for burn out.
Set Clear Boundaries
The workday should finish at the end of working hours. Encourage employees not to have work emails on their personal phones or laptops and set boundaries on the timing of work meetings to make sure no-one is completing work on their personal time.
A company-wide policy regarding working in work hours and restricting the use of personal devices to access and complete work tasks can help to support a healthier work / life balance for employees.
Employee Wellness Programs
Many larger companies now include employee wellness programs to assist with maintaining and championing wellness in the workplace. This could include a subsided membership to a gym, a weekly in office yoga or meditation class or even free fruit in the work kitchen.
There are so many ways you can show support and interest in the employee’s health and wellbeing. And this can help to breed a healthier work culture and make employees feel comfortable discussing mental health strains before they become a more expensive and serious issue.
Burnout as a workplace phenomenon is not going away. We know it’s bad for our employees and bad for our bottom line, but with a bit of proactive work and preventative measures we can reduce the risk of burn out in the workplace.