The Burnout Generation

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

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.

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?