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The Burnout Generation

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Burnout is now officially classified by the World Health Organisation as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. They have defined it as a syndrome defined as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Many often confuse workplace burnout and stress, but typically the latter is a precursor to burnout. When a previously engaged employee appears newly ‘detached’ from their role, burnout is a possible cause.

In 1908, Psychologists at Harvard, Yerkes & Dodson, discovered what became known as ‘the law of arousal’ which suggests a direct relationship between performance and stress. Their research determined that while increasing arousal (stress) up to a certain point can drive improved performance, a stage is eventually reached where performance rapidly declines. So, while some stress is, in fact, good for you, when stress is prolonged and becomes a long-term issue, burnout is often the result. Factors contributing to this type of stress, and ultimately burnout, may include a lack of work-life balance, a lack of control over type of work (or workload), and unrealistic or unclear expectations from management.

Employee burnout

The effects of burnout - how can you recognise it?

The WHO advise that burnout is characterized by three dimensions:

1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one's job

3. Reduced professional efficacy

If working all day has become a strain, you lack the energy required to be productive, or you’ve become noticeably more irritable in recent times, you may be suffering from burnout.

Leaders, what can you do to prevent burnout in your team? As we know, prevention is better than cure. As an employer, addressing potential workplace stressors to avoid unwelcome and costly illnesses may help avoid downtime and decreased productivity at a later stage. It is important to consider that burnout is rarely entirely down to the person themselves. Often people (and employers) link it to an inability to handle stress or workload, but what if the workload volume, or other factors, are out of your employees control?

Start by asking yourself:

1. Do your employees have a heavy workload?

2. Are long hours, ‘out of hours’ calls & emails an expected part of your company culture?

3. Are employees restricted in terms of the level of control they have over their workload, or limited regarding the time they have to manage it?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may find yourself facing an increase in areas such as absenteeism, employee turnover or a general decrease in productivity (amongst other things), in the near future.

If, like us, your goal is to prevent burnout rather than treat it, you might consider some of the following tips:

1. Make ‘work-life balance’ part of the culture: encourage employees to take breaks, log on and off at appropriate hours, and spend time completing activities or hobbies that they enjoy. The benefits of down time are well documented, with Forbes (2021) suggesting that holidays, or even very short breaks from work can contribute to better heart health, reduce stress and boost brain power. Leading by example is also key. If employees see management embracing a positive approach to ‘work-life balance’, they will be more likely to follow suit.

2. Promote ‘psychological security’ among teams: are your teams able to speak up when they are struggling? When employees feel empowered to ‘say their piece’, trust between employees and their immediate managers increases. A greater level of trust will not only organically reduce stress, but it will give teams the opportunity to openly discuss potential stressors they are facing, enabling management to get in front of the situation.

3. Offer support where needed: consider where employees may need support. Are the current company processes in place effective? Is the workload spread evenly amongst the team? Do some of the team require further training to enable them to complete the job more effectively?

There are many reasons why an employee may feel overwhelmed. Getting to the root-cause (or causes) and addressing them, will not only lead to a more productive and successful workforce, but demonstrates to employees that you care about their welfare. For assistance in managing your work life balance strategy, why not speak to us today?

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