Wellbeing & Mental Health
May 13, 2021
The Rise of Burnout in the Workplace & How to Address it

Did you know 2 in 3 people will experience burnout at some point in their career? That is a scary statistic for individual and organizational health! But there are ways to prevent this common workplace phenomenon.

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Nimra Khalid
Organizational Psychologist

Over the past year, we have gone through a collective change in almost all aspects of our life, especially work. With many of us working from home or under flexible hours, the divide between work and life is ever decreasing.While some are navigating this transition successfully, others are understandably struggling, giving way to exhaustion and burnout.

Temporary stress and anxiety are normal; however, if this feeling persists in a state of extreme and unrelenting emotional, physical, or mental stress, it may become burnout. Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as,"chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." WHO goes on to explicitly state burnout is a phenomenon in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

What are the Signs of Burnout?

Burnout is not just an emotional reaction to stress but has drastic long-term health repercussions, both physical and mental. It is not uncommon either. In fact, 2 in 3 people have experienced burnout at one point in their career.

Major emotional symptoms of burnout include:

·     exhaustion and fatigue

·     feelings of hopelessness

·     inability to stay focused on a task, and

·     feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement

Prolonged feelings of burnout and stress are linked with health problems like coronary heart disease, hypertension, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, and substance abuse. It also produces feelings of helplessness, alienation, and diminished quality of relationships.

What Causes Burnout?

Research shows burnout stems from a combination of factors ranging from work environment to personality traits. According to Mayo Clinic, the following are some of the most notable kick-offs to burnout:

·     Unclear job expectations

·     Dysfunctional workplace dynamics including micromanaging, undermining, or bullying

·     Extremes of an activity, whether monotonous or chaotic

·     Lack of social support leading to feelings of isolation

·     Work-life imbalance, and perhaps most notable

·     Lack of control from an inability to influence decisions or secure necessary resources

4 Ways to Prevent and Tackle Burnout

Preventing or recovering from burnout often requires personal and organizational changes. If you are a manager or leader, you can help address burnout in your team or workplace by utilizing the following methods.

1.    Autonomy: Give Back Control

Burnout is often a symptom of a greater problem— lack of control. When things seem out of control, it is bound to create a sense of despair and hopelessness. Loss of hope leads to feelings of disengagement, lack of purpose, frustration, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.

In Daniel Pink’s TED Talk about motivation, he says autonomy is one of three key motivators for knowledge workers. To create more autonomy, or a sense of autonomy, ask for employee input or participation as part of your decision-making process.

Maybe your people are requesting flexible hours, but you’re worried about productivity? Get together, determine weekly or monthly goals to allow for flexibility, and hold them accountable without adding stress. This may mean letting them work when they choose or not requiring slacks to be answered within ten minutes. But as long as deadlines are met and the final product meets or exceeds expectations, allowing people to choose when or where they work, for example, will help your people feel valued, raise morale, and give back a sense of control.

2.    Balance: Encourage Work-life Boundaries

In a time like today when the boundary between work and life is almost non-existent, encouraging work-life balance can help you and your team avoid burnout. This may mean allowing individuals to choose when they “clock in”, for example, or to stop replying to emails past 5 pm. The key here for leaders is to practice what you preach, igniting organizational change. It’s one thing to say, “you don’t have to respond to my late-night emails” and another to wait for working hours to send them.

On the organizational front, HR leaders can help keep burnout at bay by setting realistic work goals, encouraging mental health day utilization, and keeping the doors of communication open.

3.    Communicate: Checking-in with the Team

One of the major causes of employee burnout is the perceived lack of support and resources. When an employee feels alone in their struggles and problems, they are more likely to feel exhausted eventually succumbing to burnout and stress. The necessity to communicate openly is even more essential if you are working with a remote team as you don’t get to see your co-workers face-to-face.

But regardless of how your team functions, it is crucial to create an environment where talking about feelings, setbacks, hurdles, and problems do not seem out of ordinary. Set the precedent where your team can openly voice work-related concerns or issues. Check-in with your team regularly to avoid missing out on concerning patterns or potential issues. It is up to you to create an environment where your employee feels heard.

4.    Recovery: Prioritize Mental Health and Self-care

Signs of burnout are gradual but evident. Burned-out individuals experience high levels of chronic fatigue leading them to distance themselves emotionally and cognitively from their work. A burned-out employee is likely to display one or more withdrawal behaviors such as lateness, absence, or turnover. Once the initial signs of burnout arrive, take them seriously.

Share available resources with the employee to help them replenish their physical and emotional energy. Help them re-assess their workload to maintain work-life balance, prioritizing sleep, nutrition, exercise, and social connections. Offer them resources, like professional coaching, to help them learn how to better manage their stress, identify the difference between pressure and stress, or how to influence without authority. After three to four months of coaching with LeggUP, members see up to a 66% improvement in their ability to avoid burnout!

Once the individual starts recovering from burnout, they are much happier both at home and at work. That means more creative energy, more productivity, and better engagement across the board!

To Conclude

Burnout and the resulting feelings of hopelessness can often feel insurmountable, but remember that burnout is a sign, not a life sentence.By understanding the symptoms and causes and implementing these four strategies, you can help your team recover and build a road map for prevention.

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